Suicide

Suicide

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  • Created by: Nicole
  • Created on: 18-04-11 11:40

·        Suicide is no longer a criminal act in Britain, but it is still widely regarded as deviant since it contravenes norms relating to the sanctity of human life. 

 Durkheim (1970, first published 1897) tried to show that suicide was not just a product of individual psychology and that positivist methods could be used to study and explain acts of suicide and suicide rates

·        He showed that suicide rates varied fairly consistently

High suicide rates

·        High suicide rates were correlated with:

o       Protestants rather than Catholics or Jews

o       Married people rather than single people

o       Parents rather than the childless

o       Political stability and peace rather than political upheaval and war

o       Economic booms and slumps

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From the statistical patterns, Durkheim claimed to have identified four types of suicide:

o       Egoistic suicide – Caused by insufficient integration into social groups (for example, Protestants had less connection to their church than Catholics)

o       Anomic suicide – Resulted from too little regulation in industrial societies at times when rapid social change disrupted traditional norms (for example, both economic booms and depression led to a rise in suicide rates)

o       Altruistic suicide Resulted from too little regulation in non-industrial societies (for example – the practice of suttee – Hindu widows throwing themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres)

o       Fatalistic suicide – Resulted from too much regulation in non-industrial societies (for example, the suicide of slaves)

·        Despite his association with positivism, Durkheim used elements of a realist approach in looking for unobservable structures underlying suicide rates.

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Responses to Durkheim

·        Positivists have generally supported the principles on which his work was based but have modified details

Halbwachs (1930)

·        Argued that Durkheim overestimated the importance of religion

·        He also found that living in urban areas was an important factor correlated with high suicide rates

Gibbs & Martin (1964)

·        Tried to define integration in a more precise way than Durkheim, by using the concept of status integration



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Interpretive theories of suicide

Douglas (1967)

·        Points out that suicide statistics are based on the coroners’ interpretations and negotiations between the parties involved

·        The relatives/friends of an individual might persuade the coroner not to record a death as suicide

·        Douglas believes that there are different types of suicide, based on their social meanings

·        There are different meanings in different societies – for example, in Innuit society elderly Eskimos were expected to kill themselves in times of food shortage. 

Baechler (1979)

·        Develops Douglas’s approach, defining suicides in terms of the types of solution they offer to different types of situation:

o       Escapist suicides – involve fleeing from an intolerable situation

o       Aggressive suicides – Used to harm others

o       Oblative suicides – Involve taking risks for excitement or as on ordeal (e.g. Bungee Jumping)



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Dorais (2004)

·        Used an interpretative approach to understanding high rates of suicide amongst young men

·        He conducted in-depth interviews with 32 Canadian men who had attempted suicide

·        He found that many of the men had attempted suicide because they were, or were perceived by others to be, gay or bisexual in a society which was still homophobic

·        As a result many of the men felt isolated from social groups: gay men who did not consider suicide tended to be better integrated into social groups

·        Dorais concludes that although interpretative methods are needed to understand suicide, his research still finds evidence to support aspects of Durkheim’s theory

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Criticisms of interpretive theories

·        A problem with interpretive theories is that the categories used to classify suicides are simply a matter of the researcher’s judgement

Phenomenology of suicide

Atkinson (1978)

·        Develops a phenomenological view

·        He believes that it is impossible for coroners or researchers to objectively classify studies

·        The ‘facts’ are the simply a social construction

·        From studies of coroners’ courts he finds that four factors shape the common-sense theories of coroners:

o       The presence of a suicide note is taken to indicate suicidal intent

o       Some types of death (for example, hanging) are seen as more likely to be suicide

o       Location and circumstances are important

o       Evidence of depression or particular difficulties tends to encourage suicide verdicts

·   

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     In Atkinson’s view, when positivists study suicide statistics, all they uncover are the common-sense theories of coroners – for example, a tendency to record the deaths of depressed or lonely people as suicides. 

Criticisms of Phenomenology

Hindess (1973)

·        Points out that the logic of this view can be turned against phenomenologists’ own theories of how deaths are categorised as suicides

·        E.g. They are no more than their own interpretations and cannot be supported by objective data

Realist approach

Taylor (1982, 1989, 1990)

·        Taylor agrees with phenomenologists that certain factors influence coroners

·        From a study of deaths on the London underground he found that evidence of social failure or social disgrace tended to lead to suicide verdicts

·        However, Taylor claimed that evidence from case studies revealed underlying patterns of suicides

·        Suicides could be seen as one of four types, based on a person’s certainty or uncertainty about themselves or others:

o       Submissive suicide – involves certainty that your life is over – for example, in response to terminal illness

o       Thanatation suicide – involves uncertainty about yourself and whether you should live – for example, playing Russian roulette

o       Sacrifice suicide – involves certainty that others have made your life unbearable – for example, rejection by a lover

o       Appeal suicide – involves uncertainty about others – for example, suicidal behaviour which may win back a lover if they save you from death

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Suicides could be seen as one of four types, based on a person’s certainty or uncertainty about themselves or others:

o       Submissive suicide – involves certainty that your life is over – for example, in response to terminal illness

o       Thanatation suicide – involves uncertainty about yourself and whether you should live – for example, playing Russian roulette

o       Sacrifice suicide – involves certainty that others have made your life unbearable – for example, rejection by a lover

o       Appeal suicide – involves uncertainty about others – for example, suicidal behaviour which may win back a lover if they save you from death

Evaluation

·        Taylor explains some variations in suicide – for example, why some suicide attempts are more serious than others

·        But his theory is hard to test and relies upon the interpretation of sometimes limited secondary data

 



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