Robert Edgerton is an anthropologist who performed many intense studies on different cultures, and examined their understandings of suicide and sexuality. From these examinations, Edgerton theorized interesting views on those topics. On suicide, he explored the motives of the act, and its link with deviance. His views on sexuality reflect the cultures of different societies around the world. Edgerton used his studies on society to develop real beliefs about suicide and sexuality in society.
Edgerton carried out many investigations, studies, and cases involving suicide in different cultures and tribes around the world. One of Edgerton’s beliefs is that suicide is attempted and done because of hostility toward one’s environment. He also recognizes motives such as altruism, in the case of a fallen leader or a martyr, and revenge. The danger of suicide in cultures where it happens too often is one worry of Edgerton. In addition, he believes that feelings of anomie cause suicide, as well as feelings of stress, worthlessness, and depression.
The most common sociological definition of suicide is, “every case of death which results directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act, accomplished by the victim himself which he knows must produce this result.” Edgerton agrees with this general meaning of suicide. However, to Edgerton, detachment from society is a large part of suicide, which is not an act.
In Edgerton’s book “Sick Societies,” he writes that profoundly alienated people have a tendency toward all different types of socially disruptive actions. These actions range from theft or homicide to blasphemy or false accusations, but a common outcome is suicide, which occurs in all but a handful of societies. It is true in the American society that the people who commit suicide are usually lonely, and often resort to the prior disruptive actions before the latter. This theory proves that Edgerton views suicide as a retreat from life for isolated, sick people. He believes that suicide is a final resort after the sick person has completed other troublesome actions.
CHAPTER II NATURE AND SCOPE OF SOCIOLOGY OBJECTIVES: • Define sociology. • Discuss the development of sociology. • Identify different methods of sociology. • Give the importance of sociology. Lesson 1. Sociology as Science Sociology • What is Sociology? Sociology is the scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture. The term sociology was ...
Edgerton discovers from his research that in some cases, suicide is not an effect of feeling separated from one’s culture. He finds that certain motives, like altruism and revenge can be a result of anomie, or a result of one’s feeling that one is worth nothing. It happens also when someone refuses to accept a cultural ceremony. One example of a cultural ceremony that one would protest to is beating one’s wife. Another example is arranged marriage, where the culture forces the bride to marry a man whom she dislikes.
It means that one reason for suicide is that the person is showing that he is against certain actions that his or her society engages in. In the case of revenge, it is rebellion against culture, not caused by being isolated. The examples he uses are customs that people do not do in America, which help to emphasize the point. Americans can mostly understand why someone would be against wife beating or an arranged marriage because violate this societies norms. To an American, it is understandable to reject such customs and see them as a reason for suicide.
Another theory of Edgerton is that in most societies, suicide is an uncommon event. However, sometimes it occurs so often within a culture, that the culture is in danger of extinction. Edgerton uses the examples of young African-Americans, because they must live with extra stress. Poverty and racism often causes this stress. People often overlook stresses such as these, but they can be incredibly hard to overcome. African-Americans would probably be more likely to commit suicide in a town that is predominantly white, because of the previously mentioned causes of suicide, alienation and isolation. Moreover; It would be less likely for an African American to commit suicide in a city with fewer whites, because there is less tension of racism and less feeling of not fitting in.
In today's society, one of the most controversial issues is physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Many people feel that it is wrong for people, regardless of their health condition, to ask their health care provider to end their life; while others feel it is their right to be able to choose how and when they die. When a physician is asked to help a patient into death, they have many ...
In the Hehe tribe, Edgerton analyzes the belief that suicide is often the result of people feeling that they are not good enough, and they become increasingly angry and losing one’s temper. This does not mean losing one’s temper toward someone else, rather losing one’s temper toward oneself. This relates to a person killing others because someone does something that makes one angry. A person kills himself or herself, similarly, because he or she makes himself or herself angry. People are more likely to attempt suicide for this reason if they have a low self-esteem or low self-confidence.
Edgerton links suicide with alcoholism. He understands that people who experience degradation tend to drink heavily when they could to ease their pain and stresses, and become depressed and suicidal when they are sober. It is a cycle of depression that leaves the alcoholic feeling more depressed after intoxication, than he or she was before. This criticism of drinking is commonly used, and depression connects with suicide for that reason. Edgerton uses the example of Native Americans, who drank after they experienced degradation, and then became suicidal. However, they took over a new religion, giving them something to believe and alleviate their pain.
Edgerton writes that mentally retarded people may experience stress as well, and that the way to overcome it is to be a part of your society. Edgerton believes that community intervention and the mental health movement results in certain discoveries. When a mentally deficient person is a part of their society, the person is more successful in coping with their stress and more likely not to commit suicide. If a person feels as though he or she is part of his or her culture and society, he or she is less likely to feel depressed and/or attempt suicide. Belonging to an institution such as a church, a club, or even a job can alleviate the stress for the mentally deficient people who have no sense of belonging to their society. These things make a person feel that he or she has worth in this world and can cause a person to think again before taking his or her life. It is especially difficult for mentally retarded people because people may stare at them, causing them to have a natural feeling of isolation. It is imperative for these people to find help in their community in order to lead a happy life.
Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, is a novel set 632 years after the release of the Ford Model T and the assembly line. The concept of the assembly line is applied to the “decanting” and conditioning of people. The use of technology, such as drugs and conditioning, to control people in order to create a “stable” society leads to rebellious actions in order to defy the leader. The ...
Certain societies see suicide as a positive act, rather than deviance, in specific situations. In this case, Robert Edgerton explores the altruistic reasons for suicide. When a leader loses his or her power, it is appropriate in some cultures for the person to resort to suicide, because it would be shameful to the people to have a disgraceful leader. This action is common in many societies, not only in ancient times, but in modern times as well. An example of this is the theory that Adolf Hitler shot himself after World War 2.
Emile Durkheim agrees with Robert Edgerton’s concept of suicide as relative deviance. Durkheim feels that social facts that involve deviation from social norms, which people consider social problems, may be normal phenomena, from the scientific viewpoint. This view is a common view among sociologists. Studies in deviation prove that any social problem that is a cultural norm, can be something very normal in another culture. Durkheim also agrees that there are normal rates of suicide and to exceed this rate is abnormal in all societies. However, whether or not the process of suicide is deviant depends on the culture of the people that do it. This is an understanding shared by both Edgerton and Durkheim.
On sexuality, Edgerton studies the Zulu, Hehe, Pokot, and Gusii tribes. He discovers differences in mating rituals between the different cultures. Their norms range from links between pain and sex, and extremely strict attitudes regarding expression of sexuality. Edgerton also examines sexuality on the beach. There are also studies on the importance of sex to mentally deficient people, and rape occurrences in war.
Edgerton recognizes a male’s syndrome phrased as a masculine sexiness. This, he writes, is a concern with the body and its embellishment, and machismo. He explores the necessity of adapting to machismo in order to survive in everyday life. An example of this is a body builder in modern times, or the Greeks’ interest in portraying the human body in art in ancient times. This syndrome is so important to some men, that they resort to drugs such as steroids to enhance the shape of their body. Women are interested in understanding men’s machismo to help their relationships, and overcome the male dominance.
Opening: Discovering and forming one's sexual identity is a focal point of adolescence. A Teenagers decision about sexuality are influenced by all factors such as love, substance abuse, poverty, family, sexual abuse, racism and religion. A study in the United states done by Dan Habib says, everyday, three thousand teenagers becomes pregnant. Eighty percent of young Americans have intercourse ...
In one of Edgerton’s studies, he investigates the sexual tendencies of the Hehe tribe. The outcome Edgerton discovers is that they have the characteristic and tradition of relatively strong sexual restraint. When Edgerton compares the Hehe tribe to other tribes in his study, he realizes that the Hehes’ culture places emphasis on the control of desires, including sexual sin, and concealment. In both sexes, Hehes require each other to hinder all of their desires for sexual intercourse, although they admit to having strong needs for sex. They also believe that people must keep the producers of sexual excitement repressed. The things that produce sexual excitement for them include women’s breasts, and the Hehe women keep themselves completely covered at all times. The most proper people in their culture conceal all enjoyment, not only sexual. They believe that it happiness should not be gloried in.
This case study by Edgerton is about tribal sexuality. The Hehe tribe believes that to show off one’s sexuality is a violation of a norm. The Hehes’ culture contrasts with Americans’ culture, in that Americans are often scantily clad when attending parties, the beach, and sometimes school. Moreover, Americans are comfortable expressing their desires for sex in public; one example is nude scenes in movies. Hehes would regard these movies as improper. It is an extension of the view that sexuality is private, that they do not reveal any type of enjoyment at all.
Edgerton’s findings about the Hehe tribe contrast from his findings on the beach. In a study of the beach, Edgerton witnesses many incidents of human sexuality. He found that the men usually gawk at the half nude women on the beach and usually encourage them to talk to them. In the worst occurrences, men wear loose trunks to expose their penises or masturbate on the beach. These cases prove that American society does not have strict norms about public sexuality because the lifeguards do not arrest these people; rather the guards simply attend to them. Edgerton points out the difference between American society’s and the Hehe’s society’s norms dealing with sexuality. This study of the beach is also an example of relative deviance. The Hehes would think that Americans’ behavior at the beach is deviant, to the point that it may be a taboo, but Americans do not even reprimand males at the beach who expose themselves for their behavior.
Study of Human Sexual Behavior Human sexual behavior is just one of the many things anthropologist study when it comes to humans. Humans are highly complex and social beings. We often wonder why we do the things we do. Why do some people cheat, while others stay monogamous Behavior is not an easy thing to study because it is subject to change and is continuously changing. There is no clear-cut ...
In Another observation of the beach, Edgerton finds that people often have sexual intercourse on towels at the beach. The surprising part is that people at the beach disregard the open sexual behavior. Edgerton compares the indifference of people to the sexual relations on the beach to Siamese twins, when one twin is having sex and the other conducts his or her daily business. The reason why people are so unresponsive to the naked people on the beach, according to Edgerton, is that people isolate themselves. He believes that people need to be uncaring at times because they do not want to witness other people’s private lives.
Another example of Edgerton’s research on sexuality is his study of the Zulu warriors. The Zulus did not marry until late in life, and many people believed that the Zulus’ fierceness came from their sexual repression. Edgerton disagrees with this theory. In “Like Lions They Fought”, Edgerton writes that Zulus were allowed to have several wives. Because of this fact, the polygamous Zulu men should have no problem with sexual deprivation. Moreover, the unmarried Zulus did not always refrain from intercourse. The warriors often had young girlfriends, who they were not supposed to have intercourse with, but sometimes did. Edgerton recognizes the fact that sexual repression causes tension and aggression, although this is not the case with the Zulus, because they were probably not sexually restrained.
The Zulus are not the only example of sexuality during war. Edgerton explores rape as a source of violence during armed conflicts. The Bolsheviks could not stand up to Japanese troops, but their outrage was vividly displayed in the city of Nikolatevsk, where they tortured all 700 Japanese people living there and raped the women before killing them. This proves Edgerton’s point that enemies rape the women as an alternative to killing in war. It is a coward’s way of overcoming a more powerful opponent. During the Boxer’s Rebellion, the troops raped any more or less attractive women they could find. One U.S. Marine wrote back that Germans and Russians, in particular, abused and killed these women after raping them. Rape is popular in wars, because the soldiers often leave their wives at home and the warriors’ sexual repression makes them aggressive towards the enemy women, similar to what people believe of the Zulus.
Throughout history, the concept of sexuality and what is deemed as normal within different societies has evolved constantly. Various social standards and expectations often play into how a culture will approach sexuality—what it entails, what its limits may be, or if it is even an appropriate topic of discussion (Davies, 1982, p. 1042). Evidently, no matter how liberal or relaxed a particular ...
The Gusiis, a different tribe society, had other sexual customs. On their wedding night, Gusii women refused to go to bed with their grooms. The bride refused to undress or go to bed with her new husband, and then she did everything in her considerable power (including tying her pubic hair over her vagina) to prevent her husband from having sexual intercourse with her. This shows that the Gusiis connect sex with torture and agony. The Gusiis’ link between sexuality and pain begins from an early age. When adolescent boys recuperated from their circumcisions, the adolescent girls would sexually taunt them, until they received an extremely painful erection. Edgerton describes the link between pain and sexuality. There is a link between pain and sex in American society, as well. Some people can only reach orgasm if their partner hurts them. In addition, people go to sadism-masochism clubs to mix pain with pleasure.
Edgerton has distinct views on mentally retarded people concerning sexuality. In order for mentally deficient people to act more normal, they must involve themselves with normal sexuality, including the right to bear children. However, the institutions the mentally deficient people are in often hinder their opportunities to have regular sex with people. This means that Edgerton believes that it will be extremely difficult for mentally disturbed people to be normal unless they engage in sexual relations and procreate. In addition, the institutions that they belong to do not allow mentally retarded individuals to have sex. Another reason that the mentally deficient people will be unable to have normal sex is that people with mental disturbances do not usually involve themselves in male-female relationships or courtship rituals. Edgerton places heavy emphasis on the connection between sex and normality.
The Pokot people of northwestern Kenya, for example, place high emphasis on sexual pleasure and fully expect that both a husband and his wife will reach orgasm. If a husband does not satisfy his wife, he is in serious trouble. Pokot men often engage in adulterous affairs, and if a husband’s failure to satisfy his wife is attributed to his adultery, when her husband is asleep his wife will bring in female friends and tie him up. The women will then shout obscenities at him, beat him, and as a final gesture of their utter contempt, slaughter and eat his favorite ox before releasing him. His hours of painful humiliation are assumed to make him henceforth more dutiful concerning his wife’s conjugal rights. This understanding of sexuality links with deviance. Edgerton believes that this is not an outrageous act, because the Pokot people see this as normal. Because Americans would see these customs as deviant, the Pokot’s understanding of sexuality is different and the acts previously described would not be deviant in Kenya. This is because cultures are different from one another, customs are different from one another, and deviance is different as well.
The research Edgerton conducted on the various cultures’ norms on suicide and sexuality influenced his theories on these topics. Often there were connections between sociology topics such as anomie and deviance and the understandings of the cultures on suicide and sexuality. Edgerton bases beliefs concerning suicide on research of tribal cultures mentally deficient people, and behavior during wars. His theories on sexuality grow out of investigations on mentally deficient people and societies around the world, including American culture on the beach. Edgerton’s broad range of views on suicide and sexuality stem from the case studies in which he involved himself.
Edgerton, R. (1971).
The Individual in Cultural Adaptation. California: University of California Press.
Edgerton, R. (1979).
Alone Together. California: University of California Press
Edgerton, R. (1979).
Mental retardation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Edgerton, R. (1983).
Environments and Behavior. Baltimore, Maryland: University Park Press.
Edgerton, R. (1988).
Like Lions They Fought. New York: Macmillan.
Edgerton, R. (1992).
Sick Societies. New York: Macmillan.
Edgerton, R. (1997).
Warriors of the Rising Sun. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Henslin, J. M. (1999).
Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach (4th ed.).
Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon
Lukes, S. (1972).
Emile Durkheim. New York: Harper & Row
Pearce, F. (1989).
The Radical Durkheim. London: Unwin Hyman