Suicide

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 26-01-13 18:42

Durkheim

Durkheim argued that suicide was influenced by society, rather than an individual, psychological action. He used official suicide statistics from different countries to measure suicide, identify trends and compare suicide rates between countries and over time.

Statistics show that during the 19th century, Italy always had the lowest suicide rate, with Sweden and Bavaria somewhere in the middle and Denmark and Saxony with the highest suicide rates. This is fluid during the century, which suggests that suicide must have a sociological link.

Moreover, we would see little to no change in suicide rates if sociological factors did not affect suicide.

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Explaining suicide rates

Durkheim identified a correlation between suicide rates and other social facts. Social facts exist beyond the individual, but shape the individual’s behaviour e.g. religion, the legal system, education etc. Durkheim believed social factors could be measured objectively

Durkheim found a correlation between religion and suicide (e.g. Protestant countries such as Germany had a higher suicide rate than Catholic societies such as Italy) and the family (e.g. married couples with children had a lower suicide rate than unmarried people or married couples without children). From this he identified two key social facts influencing suicide: 

Integration: how involved an individual is with their community/society

Regulation: how much control society has on its members

From these causes Durkheim identified four types of suicide:

Altruistic: too much integration;

Egoistic: too little integration;

Fatalistic: too much regulation;

Anomic: too little regulation.

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Evaluation of Durkheim

Durkheim provided a sociological explanation for suicide: i.e. that suicide is influenced by society, rather than an individual action.

However, some suicides fit into more than one category. Interpretivists would argue that suicide rates provide no meaning why a suicide took place, so cannot gain verstehen.

Also, suicide statistics are the numbers of deaths recorded as suicide by a coroner: the coroner’s verdict may be wrong, reducing the validity. Furthermore, two coroners may make different judgements about the same death, reducing the reliability of suicide statistics.

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Douglas: the meanings of suicide

Douglas argues there are several ways to find the meanings behind a suicide, even though it is not possible to ask the main actor involved. The following could establish the meaning of a suicide:

  • Unstructured interviews with family or friends
  • Examination of diaries, letters, financial details etc
  • Suicide notes
  • Asking people who have survived a suicide attempt

From this, Douglas argues it is possible to identify different meanings common to suicides:

  • revenge suicide
  • search/cry for help suicide
  • escape suicide
  • repentance suicide: expressing sorrow or remorse for actions
  • self punishment suicide: punishing oneself for wrongdoings
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Phenomenology: Atkinson

The phenomenological view of suicide is that suicide is simply a meaning given to a death. Suicide has no reality beyond this. Therefore, suicide rates are simply the number of deaths a coroner has applied the meaning of suicide to. Consequently, to understand suicide statistics sociologists need to understand why some deaths are defined by coroners but not others. 

Atkinson observed coroners inquests, interviewed coroners and examined coroner’s records. From this, he concluded coroners hold a common sense view of suicide, based on:

Primary cues to indicate suicide

  • e.g. suicide notes
  • type of death (gassing, hanging, drug overdose)
  • place/circumstances of death

Secondary cues:

  • e.g. history of mental illness/financial worries
  • problems at work
  • recent bereavement/relationship problem

If a death fits into the coroner’s common sense view of suicide, it is then defined by the coroners as such and given the meaning of suicide

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Phenomenology: Atkinson

The phenomenological view of suicide is that suicide is simply a meaning given to a death. Suicide has no reality beyond this. Therefore, suicide rates are simply the number of deaths a coroner has applied the meaning of suicide to. Consequently, to understand suicide statistics sociologists need to understand why some deaths are defined by coroners but not others. 

Atkinson observed coroners inquests, interviewed coroners and examined coroner’s records. From this, he concluded coroners hold a common sense view of suicide, based on:

Primary cues to indicate suicide

  • e.g. suicide notes
  • type of death (gassing, hanging, drug overdose)
  • place/circumstances of death

Secondary cues:

  • e.g. history of mental illness/financial worries
  • problems at work
  • recent bereavement/relationship problem

If a death fits into the coroner’s common sense view of suicide, it is then defined by the coroners as such and given the meaning of suicide

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Comments

Amy

Fatalistic: too much regulation;

Anomic: too little regulation.

end of card 2

Amy

Card 5:

If a death fits into the coroner’s common sense view of suicide, it is then defined by the coroners as such and given the meaning of suicide

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