Durkheim's study of suicide
- 1890's - one of the founding fathers
- it was not only possible to apply scientific principles to social phenomenon but that it was essential to do so in order to produce useful sociology
- 1897 - used scientific methods to explore suicide
- chose suicide on purpose. Being the most individual, private, psychologically driven act, was considered not to be a social problem
- If sociology could identify social causes of suicide, would demonstrate power and impact on society of individual behaviour
- Durkehim followed principles laid down in his earlier book, 'The Rules Of Sociological Method". This methodology produced a rigorous, systematic, detailed and scientific analysis.
- If this scientific methodology is follow then "social facts" can be discovered in the same way that research reveals laws of the natural world.
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analysis of stats - some more likely to commit cri
Analysis of stats found some groups are more likely to commit crime
- Durkehim's analysis of official stats found some social groups more likely to commit suicide than others
- looked at large amount of data from different societies and from different cultural and social groups within the same society
- social patterns of suicide show it is not an individual act. Social factors come in to play.
- correlation between suicide and other 'social facts':
- suicide rates higher in Protestant than Catholic countries
- Jews lowest suicide rate
- Married people less likely to commit suicide
- low suicide rates after social upheaval or crisis - may be because people feel socially integrated
- more education = higher suicide rate
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Durkheim - four types of suicide
- different forms of suicide relate to how much integration and regulation there is in society
- social integration = socialisation into norms, values, lifestyles etc
- moral regulation = control that society + groups have over individual behaviour
- four types of suicide relate to dysfunctional integration or regulation
- Egoistic suicide = not enough integration - more suicide in Protestant countries due to looser social network and belief system
- Anomic suicide = not enough regulation - periods of economic depression or rapid expansion, suicide rises. hard to adapt.
- Altruistic suicide = too much integration - followers who commit suicide after death of leader. Terrorist bombers modern example
- Fatalistic suicide = too much regulation - suicide of prisoners or slaves
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Durkheim - positivist criticism
- Halbwachs(1930) - support Durkheim's conclusions, but said he didn't take impact of rural vs. urban lifestyles in to account
- Gibbs and Martin(1964) - The key concepts of integration or regulation weren't defined closely enough to be measured. They say nobody can know what "normal" levels of integration and regulation are.
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Interpretivism - alternate theories of suicide
- social reality isn't a series of "social facts" to discover, but a series of different meanings and interpretations that each person bring to and from each situation
- Durkheim's work is fatally flawed as he relies on official statistics
- statistics aren't facts - they are a social construction based on definitions of people who compile them
- official stats give one picture of society, not the only picture
- Douglas(1967) - there was a need to categorise suicides according to their social meaning because the triggers and response to suicide are different in different cultures. Douglas claimed there were four social meanings for suicide:
- transformation of the soul(getting to heaven
- achieving sympathy
- transformation of the self(getting people to view you differently)
- achieving revenge
- Baechler(1979) - used case studies for research into meanings behind suicide. Suicide was an action chosen by individuals to solve a problem when all other solutions had failed.
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Atkinson - how do deaths get categorized as suicid
- there is a social process in a death ebcoming labelled as suicide.
- Atkinson(1978) - coroners use their interpretations and definitions in order to define a death as suicide
- Coroners had a "typical biography" of a suicide victim - the more factors filled, the more likely they would record death as suicide. Deaths of young single men more likely to be labelled suicide than those of middle aged married men.
- suicide stats are not facts but reflections of coroners' interpretations
- critics of Atkinson say that although the suicide stats are socially constructed, they follow clear set of criteria which are shared, and will be constantly in the figures.
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Taylor - factors that influence inquests
- Steve Taylor(1990) - 12 month study - 32 cases where people had been struck and killed by London tube trains, without having left suicide notes.
- inquests into 32 deaths recorded 17 suicides, 5 accidental deaths, 10 open verdicts
- In a case study without a suicide note, a suicide verdict was far more likely if the victim had a history of mental illness or had suffered a recent setback or humiliation. Also more likely if they person had no reason to be near the underground at the time.
- Like Atkinson, Taylor believed that suicide stats were unreliable.
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