- Suicide may be regarded as ultimate act of deviance.
- In England and Wales the act of suicide was a criminall offence until 1961.
- In 2006, there were 5554 suicides in adults aged 15 and over in UK.
-- The study of suicide has sbecome a classic case study in two main methodological approahces - positivsim and interpretivism.
Durkehim's studies into suicide are often taken as a model of positivst research methodology.
- Positivists see human behaviour formed by social forces external to the individual consciousness and meanings of individuals.
- Durkheim aimed to show that even a private action such as suicide is the cause of social forces.
Social Integration and Moral Regulation
- Social integration refers to the extent which individuals are integrated into social groups and experience a sense of belonging to society.
- This is achieved by developing social cohesin through institutions such as the family or religion.
- Moral regulation refers to the social processes, like social control and socilisation that keep people's desires through social values
- Durkheim believed social stability depended on social integration and moral regulation being BALANCED.
Four Types of Suicide
- Egoistic suicide: Insufficient integration where institutions have failed to integrate individuals who have weakened ties with others as a result.
- Altruistic suicide: Excessive integration, e.g. traditional Hinduism involved widows throwing themselves on the funeral pyres (wood on top of burning bodies) of their husbands.
- Anomic suicide: Insufficient regulaion or anomie (normlessness). Arises when social guidelines are unclear e.g. during periods of rapid social change people feel lost over how to behave amd lose a sense of purpose.
- Fatalsitic Suicide: Excessive or oppressive regulations of individual behaviour. Suicide provides an escape from a future of unending despair and hopelessness. Durkheim suggested this would be found amongst slaves.
Criticisms of Durkheim
- Positivist Halbachs said Durkheim was too vague in defining social integration and ways of measuring it.
- Halbachs argues that Durkheim's explanations of suicide are based on assumptions about what group membership means to the people concerned.
- Durkheim argued that only external social forces should be considered in explaining suicide rate, but his own work references the need to understand individual consciousness and meaning.
- Durkheim's definiton of suicide creates problems of how we establish, after the event, the intentions of suicide victims.
- The four main categories of suicide (egoistic altruistic, anomic and fatalistic) are based on assumptions about what group membership means to the individuals concerned.
-Durkheim's work rests on the use of official suicide statistics but he disregards the way these may be socially constructed.
Social Construction of Suicide
- Interpretivistsargue that suicide statistics are neither valid in the sense of giving a true picutre of the extent of suicide, nor reliable as different coroners reach different verdicts.
- Describing death as suicide involves knowing what the person in question was intending to do when they died. Since we can't ask dead people of their intentions, the verdict of suicide can only be reached through interpretation.
- Defining death as suicide involves social constructions to understand the meanings and interpretations that people attach to it. It is impossible to be certain whether an act is really suicide or not
Douglas and the social meaning of suicide
- Douglas is critcal of Durkheim's use of official statistics and points out that whether a sudden death is classified as a suicide depends on the factors which cause suicide.
- Douglas says that the degree of social integration influences whether a death gets classified as suicide.
- The family and friends of a socially integrated victim may try to cover up the suicide due to their own sens or guilt.
- Those who are less integrated may have no-one to cover up their suicide.
- Also, the social meaning given to suicide can affect the statistics. E.g. suicide in Catholocism is a grave sin so is not a regular occurence but in Japan suicide is seen as honourable.
- Suicide is not always the same act, the victim can construct how others interpret their deaths.
Atkinson and the role of coroners' definitons
- Concerned with the process by which deaths get categorised as suicide, completely rejects quantative methods of Durkheim. Arguing it is the interpretation of death which counts.
- He studied coroners' reports and decions making using interviews.
- Atkinson suggested that coroners hold common-sense theories about the causes of suicide adn categorise them accordingly.
- There are four main types of evidence coroners use: - suicide notes - modes of death - Location and circumstances of death - Life history and mental condition of the victim.
- Found that coroners aren't consistent in their interpretations. What one coroner interprets another might dismiss.
- Atkinson says that suicide statistics are socially constructed and reflect coroners' verdicts so tell us nothing of the real causes.
Realist Approaches to Suicide
- Realism differs from positivism in that it does not suggest that all social causes of phenomena need to be observable and quantifiable. Taylor suggests Durkheim was not a positivist as the social forces he identified were not observable or quantifiable.
- Taylor studied suicide on London's Underground and found that coroners constructed biographies of victims by looking at their mental well-being.
- Taylor agrees that suicide stats are likely to be unreliable and agrees with Atkinson that common-sense theories influence verdicts.
Certainty and Attachment
Taylor's two key concepts were certainty and attachment to others.
- It is a degree of certainty or uncertainty in individuals, about themselves or their relationships that make them commit suicide.
- There are two main categories which suicide can fall into:
- Inner-directed suicides: Private acts concerned with an individual's identity and what they think about themselves. Certainty = successful suicide. Uncertainty = unsuccessful suicide.
- Other-directed suicides: Individuals' relationships with others and communicating some message to them.
- Taylor's research is useful as it acknowledges the degree of certainty individuals feel about themselve and othersand whether their suicide is successful or not.
- Taylor doesn't explain the wider social factors which can influence suicide.