-Durkheim was a positivist sociologist, who believed that even a supremely 'individual' act such as suicide was influenced by society. (not a personal issue) (vary across time, place and social group)
-Durkheim looked into non-social influences such as climate, heredity and alcoholism, but found none profoundly affected the suicide rates. Then he produced this hypothesis; 'the suicide rate varies inversely according to the degree of social integration and moral regulation of which the individual is a part.'
Types of Suicides Identified by Durkheim
- Egoistic Suicide: insufficient integration, too much individualism, too little integration eg, unmarried people or those without children.
- Altruistic Suicide: excess integration, for the benefit of others, eg, suicide bombers.
- Anomic Suicide: insufficient regulation, lack of norms, too little regulation, eg, in modern society rapid change and individualism mean peoples expectations cannot be satisfied.
-Fatalistic Suicide: excess regulation, the individual cannot change their situation, too much regulation, eg slavery.
Criticisms; -many people crossover into other categories
-Durkheim failed to explain why suicide is the most likely result of not enough or too much integration, why not some other course of action such as crime?
Other Theories of Suicide & Meanings of Suicide
Interpretivist theory of suicide: J.D Douglas and J.Maxwell Atkinson have questioned the reliability and validity of suicide statistics, and are critical of Durkheim's hypothesis that suicide rates are the product of social integration and moral regulation. (durkheim crit)
The social and cultural meanings of suicide: J.D Douglas argues that the suicide rate is not an objective fact waiting to be discovered, as Durkheim assumes. He argues that in order to understand how the suicide rate has come about we must examine the cultural meanings that are attached to suicide in different societies. Douglas raises two key points:
1) Societies do not share the same meaning of suicide. For example in japan suicide is seen as positive or honourable. Thus meaning peoples potential for suicide will to some extent depend on the societal interpretation of suicide.
2) Douglas also says, the more integrated a community is, the more likely it will be that a higher proportion of suicide will be covered up rather than prevented. These societies are the ones that will interpret suicide as wrong and shameful. Therefore Douglas says social integration can affect the recording of a death as suicide.
The study of coroners
Atkinson is critical of Durkheim's use of official statistics. He argues that suicide statistics are socially constructed - the end product of a complex set of interactions and interpretations with those involved.
The role of the coroner
When investigating suspicious death, the coroner can use five possible verdicts. If the cause of death is not due to natural causes the coroner may conclude that death was caused by misadventure (accidental death), homicide or suicide. The 'open' verdict is used if evidence is insufficient to allow him or her to come to a definite conclusion.
Atkinson observed coroners and found they look for either primary or secondary suicidal cues. A primary cue would be for instance a suicide note, and secondary would be looking into their lives and their state of mind before the death. (however this is often found out through their relatives, who may try to influence the coroners thinking).
The open verdict
Atkinson sees a large unreliability and invalidity of suicide statistics by examining the use of the open verdict in the UK. In conclusion he criticises Durkheim for taking these statistics at face value, and says the statistics are socially constructed.