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Social Integration and Regulation in a Modern World

Essay by   •  December 4, 2011  •  Case Study  •  2,399 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,807 Views

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"Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster. "(Jim Wallis)

Disaster can be defined as a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life. When we hear damage we usually think of the physical damage caused by this disaster, however, the real damage is the emotional damage felt by the individual and society where the disaster took place. Emile Durkheim was a famous sociologist who studied how different events affect a community as a whole. His big topic was suicide and why people committed it based on the types of communities the people had lived in. His main theories are social integration and social regulation. In "Everything in Its Path" by Kai T Erikson, the people of Buffalo Creek had their lives shattered the day of the disaster that was caused by the levels of social integration and social regulation the individuals were involved in.

An important theory of Emile Durkheim is social integration. Social integration is the community's social fabric that supports putting the group above the individual. The point of social integration is to integrate individuals into the collective body. The group is internally unified. If a person decides to rely more on themselves than the group, they don't collect as much from a collective life. Durkheim believes that the more coherent a group is the lower the suicide rate, because individuals draw their strength from a community. When people are not part of a group they draw strength from themselves making them weaker because they are not as strong hence committing suicide. Durkheim believes if there is too much individualism it will lead an egoistic suicide and too much integration will lead to an altruistic suicide.

Another theory of Durkheim is social regulation. Social regulation is Government-imposed restrictions designed to discourage or prohibit harmful corporate behavior (such as polluting the environment or putting workers in dangerous work situations) or to encourage behavior deemed socially desirable. Social groups vary to the extent to which they regulate an individual. They regulate through dreams, passions, desires, expectations, ambitions, and roles of what you can be. If a society does not regulate its people enough they will have an anomic suicide and if they regulate their people too much then more fatalistic suicide will occur.

In "Everything in Its Path," by Kai T. Erikson, Erikson describes the destruction of community in the Buffalo Creek Flood.

"On February 26, 1972, 132 million gallons of coal-black water mixed with solid mine wastes burst through a makeshift dam and roared down the Buffalo Creek, a narrow mountain hallow in West Virginia. One hundred twenty-five people were killed, and 4,000 out of the local population of 5,000 lost their homes. In the months and years that followed, the survivors of the flood experienced both a form of trauma induced by disaster itself and a form of trauma that resulted from the loss of a tightly knit, nourishing community." (Erikson)

Almost everyone on Buffalo Creek depends for a living on the mining of coal. Three narrow forks that meet together at the top of the hollow formed Buffalo Creek. The middle of these forks is called Middle Fork and it had been used as the site for an enormous pile of mine waste, which was known to the people of the community as a "dam." The need for this dam was because every time a miner digs coal out of the ground, he also digs up some "slag" or "gob," which is a heavy mixture of mine dust, shale, clay, low quality coal, and an assortment of other impurities. The Pittston Corporation had been using Middle Fork since 1957 and was dumping about one thousand tons everyday of slag. The waste was two hundred feet deep, six hundred feet in width and fifteen hundred feet upstream. Days before the tragedies were wet days, there was rain mixed with flurries and according to experts it was normal for the season. Company officials were uneasy because the dam was rising very close to the crest. A few minutes before the accident Denny Gibson, a heavy equipment operator, inspected the dam to find the entire structure was not only close to overflowing, but also itself had turned soft. "It was really soggy, it was just mush" (Erikson 29.) The dam simply collapsed and 132 million gallons of it moved towards the town. The people called it a "mud wave", "rolling lava", and a "maelstrom of liquid and mud and debris." The wave had touched all of the homes of Buffalo Creek and some were completely destroyed. Four thousand of the five thousand inhabitants were homeless. The survivors would never be the same after this disaster.

Prior to February 26, Buffalo Creek community was very close. Everyone's life revolved around the mines, so they had common interests or values. The community would be considered Tonnies theory of Gemeinschaft. The town is small and social ties connect everyone in their neighborhood. Also, the neighborhoods were like the people's families and they had very intimate relationships. One woman whose husband died of black lung and her son to a slate fall said, "In a coal mining town, it's like we're all one big family. When my husband died, I went someplace, to the store maybe, and when I came back home there was a pile of money that covered the table... so they really did take care of their own, the miners did." (Erikson 103) The miners took care of each other because they were neighbors and had a very strong bond. The coal camps acted as a way for the people of the town to diminish their own selfish needs to and focus more on the group structures. Neighborhoods and villages began to replace families and clans as the basic unit of social life. "A neighbor, then, is someone you can relate to without pretense, a familiar and reliable part of your everyday environment; a neighbor is someone you treat as if he or she were a member of your immediate." (Erickson 188) The community takes care of one another to make sure the people of the neighborhood are safe.

After the flood, Buffalo Creek can best be described as scattered. The neighborhoods were gone and they were all forced to move to strange new places with people who they didn't know. The people felt alone and separated from their communities. They were lonely because the old and trusted neighborhood had moved away, leaving all the survivors feeling isolated. "A lot has changed. Nothing is the same. It is just a big lonesome hollow to me, and I hope I don't ever have to go back up there." (Erikson 215) One problem the survivors had was the fear related to the incident and this caused them to draw further into themselves

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