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Taylor suggests that suicide should have a broad definition of: 'any deliberate act of self damage or potential self damage where an individual cannot be sure of survivial.

Durkheims definition fo suicide, 'All cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself which he knows will produce this result'

Durkheim suggested that suicide should focus on acts where an individual is intent on dying.


In 2006 there were 5,554 suicides in adults aged 15 and over in the UK, which represented almost 1% of the total deaths in this age range. Three quarters of these suicides were men.

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Positivist Suicide

Suicide is the ultimate act of deviance.

For Durkhiem Suicide is a social fact.

In 1897 Durkheim conducted a study into suicide which compared the suicide rates of different sub-groups within each society. From these statistics he found that even though the people making up the sub-group changed the suicide rate stayed fairly constant. Durkheim also concluded that there were significant difference in the suicide rate between societies, e.g. Protestant and Catholic countries, significant differences were also found within groups in different societies, e.g. less suicides between married people while more were found in single people.

Durkheim believed that it was impossible to explain the consistancy of these patterns over long periods of time if suicide was simply a personal act. He believes that if this was the case then suicides would be random and have no pattern.

He concluded that the explanations for suicide must be in society itself.

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Social Integration and Moral Regulation

Social integration refers to the extent to which individuals are integrated into socal groups and the sense of belonging in society.

Moral Regulation refers to the social processes that keep individuals in check with social values, ensuring that they do not have any unrealist ambitions.

Durkheim believed that social stability depended on  social integration and moral regualtion being balanced.

Durkheim conducted a study into the suicide rates of different sections of society and found that high suicide rates were found in urban areas and that Protestants were more likely to commit suicide than Catholics.

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Durkheims Types of Suicide

Egoistic: Insufficient integration and too much individualism. Weak ties within society.

Altruistic: Excessive integration and little to no value to the group.e.g.-Suicide Bombers

Anomic: Insufficient integration and social boundaries/guidlines. e.g.-men commiting more suicides than women becuase of a crisis of masculinity.

Fatalistic: Opressive regulation of individuals with suicide being an escape from unending despair. e.g.-Slave Cultures.

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Criticisms and Failings of Durkheim

Halbach suggested that Durkheim gave too much emphasis to the significance of religion. He also said that Durkheim is too vague in defining social integration adn the ways of measuring it.

Other sociologists are critical of the validity of Durkheims statistics. This is becuase no systematic medical examinations for the dead existed until the late 19th century meaning that the cause of death was not always identified meaning more deaths could have been suicides than the number that were reported.

Durkheim argues that only external social forces should be considered in explaining suicide rates but his work makes reference to the need to understand the individual and how they are integrated into society.

Durkheims definition of suicide creates a problem of knowing the intentions of the victim. A death cannot be classed as a suicide unless the intentions of the individual was known.

Durkheims work rests on official statistics which may be social constructs and not a true record of the number of suicides.

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Interpretivist Suicide

Interpretivists argue that suicide statistics are neither valif nor reliable as different coroners may reach different verdicts even if similar evidence is presented to them.

To determine a death as a 'suicide' the intentions of an individual must be known, we must know if they intended to die or not.

Suicide can only occur when an individual actively intended to kill themselves, and if we cannot determine this informaion then there are likely to be differences in the type of daeth reported by the coroners.

Interpretivists suggest that defining a death as a suicide involves social constructions of meanign placed on the event by others, and ot understand the meanings and the interpretations that people attach to it.

From this point to view official statistics are simply social constructs- a record of the interpretations made by officials of what are seen to be unnatural deaths.

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Douglas' Meanings of Suicide

People who commit sucide may define their actions in four ways:

1) Transforming the self to gain release from cares of the world.

2) Transforming others to show profound feelings.

3) Means of achieving fellow feeling.

3) Means of gaining revenge.

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Criticisms of Douglas

Douglas provides a classification of suicide based on the meanigs of actors. however, there is no reson to believe that sociologists are any better than coroners at interpreting a dead persons meanign.

Sainsbury and Barraclough found that the rank order of suicides from immegrant groups in the USA correlated closely with that of suicide rates from tehir countries of origin.

Douglas is inconsistant, sometimes suggesting that official statistics are merely the product of coroners' opinions. At other times he claims that we can discover the causes when the only way to do that is the coroners' reports.

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Atkinsons' Meanings of Suicide

Further arguments that Douglas failed to understand that categories such as suicide are social constructed come from Atkinson who believes that official statistics in Britain reflect coroner's decisions rather than underlying reality. To make a decision coroner's piece together clues to see if these point to suicide.

They view the following as important indicators of suicide:

1) Suicide Note- found in 30% of suicide cases.

2) Mode of Death- Hanging, Drowning, Overdose, etc.

3) Location and Circumstances- Commited in places where they will not be discovered.

4) Life History and Mental Condition- Suicide can often be caused by depression.

Atkinson demonstrates that the official statistics forming the basis of Douglas' work are themselves socially constructed by the activities of the coroners.

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Critisisms of Atkinson

Hindess critcises the Ethnomethodologists' approach as self defeating. Atkinson's view that the only thing we can study about suicide is coroners interpretations can be turned back on him; if all we have is interpretations of the social world, rather than objective truth about it, then Ethnomethodologists' own accounts are themselves no more than interpretations.

However, Ethnomethodologists accept that their accounts are merely interpretations iunlike positivists who claim to produce objective, scientific accounts.

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Taylors Meanings of Suicide

Taylor Suggested that both Burkheim and his critics have missed the significance of Parasuicides as the majority of cases of people who attempt suicide do not die.

Taylor proposes that most attempts at suicide are less definate to finish with life and more of a gamble in which people leave the outcome in the hands of fate. Taylor says that Parasuicide widens the discussion on suicide into one of risk taking.

Developing Durkheims' categories further he suggests that successful Parasucides could be categorised as ordeak suicides related to a profound sense of anomie and the more purposive suicides, similar to Durkheim. Taylor suggests four types of suicide based on a persons certainty or uncertainty about themselves:

1) Submissive- Certainty life is over.

2) Tanatation- Uncertainty of whether should live if die.

3) Sacrifice- Others have made your life unbearable.

4) Appeal- Uncertainty about others.

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Criticisms of Taylor

Taylors theory is based on his interpretation of the actors' meanming and there is no way of knowing if these are correct, especially in the case of those whose attempts succeeded. also individual cases may involve a combination of motives which may be difficult to categorise.

Taylors small sample of case studies, while useful in giving insight into motives, is unlikely to be representative of suicides in general.

Taylors theroy is original and useful in explaingin some of the observed patterns of suicide, such as why atte,pts differ in seriousness and why only some leave notes.

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