10. Suicide

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  • Suicide
    • DURKHEIM, positivism and suicide
      • Durkeim accepts that some individuals may be psychologically more predisposed to suicide; however he rejects that psychological factors can explain the differences in the suicide rates of whole groups or societies
      • Suicide rates as social facts
        • Our behaviour is caused by social facts- social forces found in the structure of society
        • LUKES
          • Social facts have 3 features
            • They are external to individuals
            • They constrain individuals, shaping their behaviour
            • They are greater than individuals
        • For Durkeim the suicide rate is a social fact
        • Durkeim used quantitative data from OFs to study suicide and noted 4 regular patterns:
          • 1. Suicide rates remain more or less constant over time
          • 2. When the rates did change this coincided with other changes
          • 3. Different societies have different rates
          • 4. Within a society, rates varied considerably between social groups
        • Durkheim explains the suicide rates as the effect of social facts or forces acting upon individuals
        • In different groups and societies, these social facts act with different degrees of intensity, resulting in different rates
      • Durkhiem's 4 types of suicide
        • He identifies 2 social facts that determine the rate of suicide:
          • Social integration (sense of belonging to a group)
          • Moral regulation (the extent to which actions are kept in check by norms and values
        • He argues that suicide results from either too much or too little integration or regulation
        • 1. Egoistic suicide (too little integration) caused by excessive individualism and lack of social ties and obligations to others
        • 2. Altruistic suicide (too much social integration) occurs when suicide is an obligatory self-sacrifice for the good of the group
        • 3. Anomic suicide (too little moral integration) caused by anomie which creates uncertainty in individuals
        • 4. Fatalistic suicide (too much moral regulation) occurs when society controls the individual completely e.g. slaves
      • Suicide and type of society
        • Modern and traditional societies differ from one another in their levels of integration and regulation
        • Modern industrial societies have lower levels of integration and less regulation- more egoistic and anomic suicide
        • Traditional pre-industrial societies have higher levels of integration and more regulation- more altruistic and fatalistic suicide
      • Later positivist approaches
        • HALBWACHS
          • Differences between urban and rural residence were the main reason for variations in suicide rates
        • SAINSBURY
          • Suicide rates in London boroughs were highest where the levels of social disorganisation (divorce and illegitimacy) were highest
        • GIBBS & MARTIN
          • Like Durkheim, they wish to make law-like, cause-and-effect generalisations
          • They however argue that Durkheim does not operationalise his concept of integration (make it measurable)
          • Define integration as a situation where there are stable and lasting relationships
          • Stable relationships tend to occur when an individual has status integration- compatible statuses that do not conflict with one another
          • They predict that in societies where there is little status integration the suicide rate will be higher
        • EVAL: It is argued that the stats Durkheim used were unreliable and incomplete
    • Interpretivism and suicide
      • DOUGLAS: the social meanings of suicide
        • He's interested in the meaning of suicide to the individual and the way that coroners label deaths as suicides
        • He criticised DURKHEIM on 2 main grounds:
          • The use of suicide statistics, which rely on coroners to label deaths as suicides so may show bias
            • For DOUGLAS, suicide verdicts are the product of interactions and negotiations between those involved which are affected by things like integration (social isolate suicides are more likely to be classified as suicides)
          • Actors' meaning and qualitative data, as each death must be classified based on its actual meaning for the deceased
            • Meanings may include repentance, escape, search for help, self-punishment, revenge and seriousness
        • DOUGLAS also points out that suicide might have different meanings for individuals in different cultures
        • EVAL:
          • There is no reason to believe that sociologists are any better than coroners at interpreting a dead person's meanings
          • SAINSBURY & BARRACLOUGH
            • Suicides for immigrant groups to the USA were similar with the suicide rates of their countries of origin despite the fact that American coroners were the labellers rather than those of their home countries
          • DOUGLAS is inconsistent regarding his view of OFs
      • ATKINSON: ethnomethodology and suicide
        • Ethnomethodology argues that social reality is simply a construct of its members
        • We create reality using taken-for-granted common-sense knwoledge
        • The sociologists job is to uncover what this knowledge is and how we use it to make sense of the world
        • He accepts DOUGLAS' view that OFs are just constructs or labels
        • For Atkinson we can never know the true rate of suicide since we would have to know for sure the meanings the dead gave to their deaths
        • All we can study is how people make sense of their world. For suicide this means studying how the living come to classify a death as a suicide
        • Atkinson focuses on how coroners categorise deaths by using qualitative methods
        • He concludes coroners have a common-sense theory about the typical suicide. If a particular case fits this theory they are more likely to label it as a suicide
        • Coroners common-sense theories lead them to see the following types of evidence as relevant:
          • A suicide note
          • Mode of death
          • Location and circumstances
          • Life history
        • Coroners are engaged in analysing cases using taken-for-granted assumptions about typical suicides
        • A verdict of suicide is simply an interpretation of a death based on these assumptions
        • EVAL
          • HINDESS
            • Atkinson's approach is self-defeating. If all we can study is coroners interpretations of the social world then ethnomethodologists accounts themselves are no more than interpretations
      • TAYLOR: realism and suicide
        • He argues that OFs are not valid
        • He found that coroners saw factors such as a history of mental illness as indicators of suicidal intent, and this increased likelihood of a suicidal verdict
        • He still believes that we can explain suicide however he does not base his explanation on OFs
        • Adopts a realist approach
        • Uses case studies to discover the underlying structures of meaning that cause suicide
        • Notes hat not all those that attempt suicide are certain their actions will kill them so we should look at both unsuccessful and successful suicides
        • Most likely to commit suicide in situations of compete certainty or complete uncertainty about themselves or others
        • He identifies 4 types of suicide:
          • Submissive suicide (self-directed or ectopic) where the person is certain about themselves e.g. terminal illness
          • Thanatation suicides (ectopic) where they are uncertain about themselves, involves risk taking- they may or may not survive e.g. Russian Roulette
          • Sacrifice suicides (other-directed or symphysic) where they are certain about others and know they have to kill themselves e.g. revenge for an affair
          • Appeal suicides (symphysic) where the person is uncertain about others, involves risk taking and are acts of despair
        • EVAL:
          • There is no way of knowing if TAYLORs meanings are correct
          • Some cases may be hard to categorise if there are multiple motives
          • His small sample size is unlikely to be representative
          • Unlike DURKHEIM, TAYLOR has not connected his 4 types of suicide to wider social structures

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