Positivists, interpretivists and realists approach to suicide


Durkheim Le Suicide (1897)

  • Suicide is a product of external forces
  • Suicide is a social fact
  • Used statistics from different countries to find correlations and patterns

In each society suicide rates are constant

There are significant differences in the suicide rates of different societies

2 Social Facts

Social Integration -  refers to the extent to which individuals experience a sense of belonging or obligation

Moral Regulation - the extent to which individuals actions/desires are kept in check by norms and values. 

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Durkheim's 4 Suicides

Egoistic Suicide - too little social integration, more common in modern societies, excessive individualism, lack of social ties (Teacher suicide article)

Altruistic Suicide - too much social integration, puts others first, self sacrifice for the sake of the group, duty to die (Suicide bomber article)

Anomic Suicide - too little moral regulation, normlessness (anomie) unclear or obsolete norms, don't know what to expect (Greece depression article)

Fatalistic suicide - too much moral regulation, can do nothing to affect their destiny, governed completely by society (Northen Ireland article)

In modern industrial society we experience: low levels of integration, little obligation to others, failure to regulate individuals (egoistic/anomic)

In traditional pre-industrial society we experience: high levels of integration, rigidly arcribed status (altruistic/fatalistic)

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Durkheim Evaluation

  • Too heavily based on official stats - these can be manipulated and are a product of social construction
  • Can be used to show the link between sociology and science
  • Halbwachs (1930) Durkheim forcuses too heavily on areas such as religion and ignores other factors like ecology, only based on what membership of a group means to individual 
  • Durkheim suggests that we must be aware of unconcious societal values which is impossible (borderline interactionist approach)
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Douglas (1967) The Social Meanings of Suicide

  • Suicide is a social construction
  • Each act of suicide is individual and unique
  • Can only be explained by others affected by the death
  • Suicide stats are not valid as they are easily influenced (eg. people destroying evidence)
  • Stats are a product of opions, attitudes and values
  • Integration affects how likely a suicide is to be recorded
  • Positivists ignore the meanings of suicide
  • We must aim to build a typology of suicidal meanings
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Douglas' 4 Suicides

  • Transforming soul - we must kill ourselves in order to reach a higher and better state of being (mass suicide in religious cults)
  • Transforming oneself - telling other people how strong our feelings are about  a certain topic (killing yourself because you have killed someone else)
  • Acheiving fellow feelings - allowing others to empathise with us (parasuicides)
  • Gaining revenge - making someone feel guilty for your death (ex love)
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Atkinson (1971) The Role of the Coroners' Definiti

  • How can coroners label a death a suicide?
  • The exact numbers of suicide will never be known 

4 clues to a Suicide:

Sucide notes - there may not be a note, could have been written by someone else

Mode of Death - most common include hanging, overdose, slashed wrists, jumping off a bridge

Location and Cirumstances - where and when?

Life history and Mental Condition - history of mental illness, recent family death, poor financial situation, divorce

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Taylor (1982) Persons Under Trains

  • To undertand suicide, we must compromise between positivists and interpretivist (REALISTS)
  • Studied suicides and parasuicides
  • Argued stats are subjective
  • Real patterns do exist in suicide
  • Aims to reveal underlying structures and causes
  • Suicides are about communication and certainty 
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Taylor's 4 Suicides

Self Directed (ectopic)

Submissive Suicide - certain about yourself, no future or reason to go on, deadly serious attempt (terminally ill people)

Thenation Suicide - uncertain about yourself, concerned with others opinions, risk taking suicide (russian roulette)

Other Directed (symphysic)

Sacrifice Suicide - certain about others, dealing serious attempt, impossible to go one, blame others for their death (guilt passed to ex)

Appeal Suicide - uncertain about others, doubts about importance, form of communication to change others behaviour, both an act of despair and hope, a wish to die and for things to get better

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