A2 Sociology: Suicide

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Sociologists study suicide becos it is seen as deviant
The first major sociological contribution came from Durkheim
Durkheim was a positivist which means he believed society could be studied
Durkheim believed he could show that suicide has social causes and this would prove
that sociology is scientific
He rejects the view that psychological factors can explain the differences in suicide
Suicide Rates As Social Facts
"Social facts ­ social forces found in the structure of society." They have 3 features:
1. External to individuals
2. Constrain individuals, shaping their beh.
3. They're greater than the individual
For Durks, the suicide rate is a social fact. He used quantitative data from official stats. He
noted 4 regular patterns (19th Century):
1. Suicide rates for any given society remained constant more or less over time
2. The rates did change. This coincided w/other changes
3. Different societies have different rates
4. Rates varied considerably between diff social groups. Married people with children
had lower rates than the single, widowed or childless.
For Durks, these patterns were evidence that suicide rates could not be purely the
individuals motives
Instead of giving a psychological explanation, he explained the suicide rates the effect
of social facts or forces acting upon individuals.
Durkheim's 4 Types of Suicide
Durks identified two social facts that determine the rate of suicide:
Social Integration: The extent to which individuals experience a sense of belonging
to a group.
Moral Regulation: The extent to which individuals' actions and desires are kept in
check by norms and values. W/o regulations, individuals' desires are incapable of
1. Egoistic Suicide: is caused by too little social integration. Durks argues that this is
the most common type of suicide in modern. Egoistic suicide is less common in
times of war etc becos there is a strong sense of belonging.

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Altruistic Suicide: The opposite of egoistic suicide. Caused by too much social
integration. Occurs where the individual has little values. Individual feels it as their
duty to die. Eg. Some Inuit peoples, the old were expected to walk out into the cold
to die.
3. Anomic Suicide: Caused by too little moral regulation. Societies norms and values
become unclear by rapid social change sometimes, creating uncertainty.
4. Fatalistic Suicide: the opposite of anomic suicide and is caused by too much
regulation.…read more

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Interpretivists have sought to demolish Durks theory and focus on the meanings of
Douglas: the social meanings of suicide
o Interested in the meaning that suicide has for the deceased, and in the way that
coroners label deaths as suicides
Criticises Durkheim's study of suicide on two main grounds:
1. The use of suicide statistics: The decision to classify a death as suicide is taken by
a coroner and influenced by social actors.
o This may produce bias in the verdicts reached. Eg.…read more

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Atkinson: Ethnomethodology & Suicide
Ethnomethodology argues that social reality is simply a construct of its members
Sociologists' job is to uncover what this knowledge is and how we use it to make
sense of the world
Atkinson accepts Douglas first point about official stats being constructs or labels
coroners give to death
Atkinson says all we can study is how people make sense of their world.…read more

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Taylor notes that in many cases, those who attempt suicide are not certain that their
actions will kill them.
Types of Suicide
The first two types are inner or self-directed suicide (which he calls ectopic) where the
individual is psychologically detached from others. Becos of this the suicide attempt is
private, self-contained act.
1. Submissive Suicides: This is when the person is certain about themselves. Eg. They
may know they have no future or reason to go on (like terminal illness).…read more


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