Topic 10 - Suicide


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Durkheim - suicide rates as social facts:
Analysed suicide rates for different countries:
Suicide rates for any given society remained more or less constant over time
When rates did change, they were coincided with other changes (e.g. rose at times of economic
Different societies have different rates
Rates vary between different social groups
Many countries lack sophisticated modern administrative systems needed to collect and compile
reliable statistics
Durkheim's four types of suicide:
Egoistic suicide: caused by too little social interaction - caused by excessive individualism (explains
lower rate among Catholics than Protestants - both religions condemn suicide but Protestants have
more freedom in what to believe and how to express their faith)
Altruistic suicide: caused by too much social integration - groups interests override individual obligatory
self-sacrifice for the good of the group (e.g. Kamikaze pilots)
Anomic suicide: caused by too little moral regulation - anomic suicide occurs when society's norms
become unclear or obsolete because of rapid social change
Fatalistic suicide: caused by too much moral regulation - fatalistic suicide occurs when society regulates
or controls the individual completely
Douglas: the social meanings of suicide
Interested in the meaning suicide has for the deceased and the way coroners label deaths as suicides
Criticises Durkheim:
1. Use of suicide statistics - decision to classify a death as a suicide is taken by a coroner and
influenced by other social actors - may produce bias in verdicts
If an individual is socially isolated and has no-one to oppose a suicide verdict, the likelihood of
death being labelled and recorded as suicide is high
2. Actors' meanings and qualitative data - meanings of suicide can vary between culture - motives
must be understood (Durkheim comparing rates across cultures = difficult).
Cannot categorise suicides in terms of social causes - must classify each death according to its
meaning to the deceased
Using qualitative data overcomes problems caused by relying on OS - understand real meanings
How are sociologists any better than a coroner at interpreting a dead persons' meaning?
Atkinson: Ethnomethodology and suicide
Ethnomethodology argues that social reality is a construct of its members
We can never know the real rate of suicide as its impossible to know what meanings they gave to their
Focuses on how coroners categorise deaths - use a range of qualitative methods
Concludes that corners have a commonsense theory about suicide - if a particular case fits in with
commonsense theory, coroners are more likely to categorise death as suicide
Taylor: realism and suicide
Suicide statistics cannot be taken as valid - study of 32 people who had died after being hit by London
Tube Trains, just over half resulted in verdicts of suicide, even though there was no conclusive evidence
of suicidal intent (X - Small sample of case studies is unlikely to be representative of suicides in general)
- Coroners saw factors such as history of mental illness as indicators of suicidal intent
We can discover real patterns and causes of suicide through a realist approach, aiming to reveal
underlying structures and causes
Defining suicide: those who attempt suicide are often not certain their actions will kill them, just as not
all who attempt suicide are aiming to die


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