Article Title

Suicide in South Korea: Revisiting Durkheim's Suicide


The suicide rate in South Korea has been steadily increasing for the past twenty years and has become a major societal issue. Accordingly, the phenomenon has drawn the attention of researchers from many different perspectives that have looked to a variety of causes. Efforts to understand the trends from a sociological perspective, however, are scarce. One notable exception is Ben Park’s (2012) cohort theory of “collective cultural ambivalence”. Drawing from Durkheim’s concept of anomie, Park argues that in Korea the simultaneous and competing existence of traditional Confucianism and Western Individualism is causing pathological cultural ambivalence, a state of anomie, and increasing rates of suicide. The theory of cultural ambivalence, however, conflates Durkheim’s conceptual distinctions between social regulation/integration and anomic/egoistic suicides. By revisiting the original formulations in Suicide, this essay offers a Durkheimian interpretation and explanation for suicide trends and patterns by drawing from Park’s cohort theory of cultural ambivalence, examining current research on suicide in Korea, and using data from the fifth wave of the World Values Survey (2014). Along with Park’s emphasis on anomie, I argue that egoism and social integration are important considerations distinct from social regulation for understanding the increasing rates of suicide in South Korea.

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