Assess the sociological explanations and approaches to suicide (21 marks) - A* ESSAY

A* essay answering the question 'assess the sociological approaches to suicide' and was awarded 20 out of 21 marks.

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Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of different sociological
approaches to suicide. (21 marks)
According to Item A, suicides are based on coroner's interpretations and differ across cultures
as Danish coroner's base their verdicts on probability rather than English coroners who must
find evidence to support their verdict as suicide. Durkheim identifies the difference in suicide
rates across cultures and societies. Durkheim defines suicide as "all cases of death resulting
directly or indirectly from positive or negative act of the victim himself". He used suicide to
demonstrate that positivistic and scientific methods of researching social topics was possible
whereas interpretivists argue that to understand the meanings of society and the causes of
suicide, we must use qualitative methods such as unstructured interviews. Durkheim used
official statistics as a reliable and representative way to study social facts, such as integration
and regulation. Douglas criticised Durkheim for using statistics as they do not represent a true
and valid picture of the individuals' meanings, such as why they committed suicide, instead of
the coroner's labels and interpretations of their deaths. Atkinson disagrees that it is possible to
discover the real rate of suicide. Taylor's realist approach suggests that we must uncover the
underlying meaning that cause suicide and categorises them into self or otherdirected.
Durkheim's (1897) argument is extremely outdated, being almost 120 years old. This means that
some of his views aren't applicable to today's society his ideas were based on preindustrial
societies where people often lived in extended or nuclear families, whereas today's society is
based on modern industrial society where not many people continue to live in nuclear families
anymore. He argues that our behaviour is caused by social facts such as social integration and
moral regulation and that the suicide rate is also a social fact. He investigated that suicide rate
over a 20 year period which was useful to discover changes, patterns or correlations in the
suicide rate, and managed to discover four irregular patterns in it. The first was that suicide rates
tended to remain the same more or less and when the rates did change, this coincided with
other social changes like economic depression or war. He also discovered that different
societies have different rates, as supported by Item A, and that within these societies, rates
varied between social groups, for example, he found that Catholics had lower rates of suicide
than Protestants. These raised the ideas that as our society changes, so does it's members
actions. However, an internal criticism comes from positivists, Gibbs and Martin (1964) as they
state that although Durkheim uses positivistic methods well, we does not establish cause and
effect, a key importance in positivist research and that Durkheim's analysis depends on the
concept of social integration but he gives no definition of it. From these limitations, Gibbs and
Martin outline a definition of social integration and argue that is is a `situation where there are
stable and lasting relationships' and it occurs when an individual has status integration, (when
compatible statuses don't conflict, for example, occupation and educational statuses are
similar). The two positivists predict higher suicide rates in societies of little social/status
integration i.e. well education people who are forced to take low status jobs. However, some
peoples, who have the possibility for well paid jobs, for example, Greenpeace lawyers who work
pro bono (without charge). Gibbs and Martin claimed that social integration was linked closely to
religion and family membership but they provide no explanation of exactly how this can be

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Durkheim's (1897) study is useful as it has been used for over 70 years and his research is a
good example of how to undergo positivistic research into social topics. He drew up theoretical
conclusions on the causes of suicide from his data and proposed four types of suicide, based on
if an individual had too much/too little social integration or too much/too little moral regulation.…read more

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This methodology however,
is often biased as it can easily impose the researcher's meanings, and thus decreases its
usefulness. Atkinson manages to identify that coroners use commonsense theories about
suicide for example, if a victim's cause of death is an overdose and there are no persons of
interest or the victim has a history of attempted suicides, a coroner will tend to assume that the
victim committed suicide. Structuralists such as Hindess (1973) concludes and criticized this
approach as selfdefeating, lessening its usefulness and application.…read more


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