Suicide - Crime and Deviance

Revision notes on suicide 


Durkheim's Scientific Approach

  • He wanted to prove that sociology was a science to tried to explain suicide 
  • He did a multivariate analysis which involves comparing social incidences with actual statistics 
  • He found patterns in suicide
  • If suicide was an individual matter rather than a social matter there wouldnt be any patterns
  • Suicide is correlated with a lack of social integration
  • If a religion focuses on the group rather than the individual then people will be more socially integrated 
  • Durkheim found that Catholics were more integrated and experienced less suicide, whilst protestants were less integrated and experience more suicide
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Durkheim's 4 Types of Society


  • Individuals rights, interests and welfare are stressed and the link to the wider group is weak
  • People will look after themselves at the expense of the wider society and integration is low
  • This society is linked to Protestants because individuals make their own decisions and accept the consequences
  • The individual's failure is the reason for suicide


  • The welfare of the indivual is less important than the welfare of the group
    - I.e. individual choice/ happiness isnt a high priority
  • The only reason for suicide is that the individual is expected to do so on the behalf of the wider society 


  • The social mechanism provide a clear framework of what behavior is acceptable
  • When these mechanisms are weakened then people revert to their natural selfishness where they look after their own interests
  • Anomic suicide happens during periods of rapid social change and this is because of the lack of social integration


  • This is an oppressive society
  • In an oppressive society people may want to die rather than live
  • This explains high suicide rates in prisons
  • Therefore fatalistic suicide occurs in extremely oppressive societies
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Responses to Durkheim


  • Have generally supported the principles on which his work was based but have modified details

Halbwachs (1930)

  • Argued that Durkheim overestimated the importance of religion
  • He also found that living in urban areas was an important factor correlated with high suicide rates

Gibbs and Martin (1964)

  • Tried to define integration in a more precise way than Durkheim, by using the concept of Status Integration
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Criticizing Durkheim

  • There is no clear definition of what social integration is but Durkheim's analysis depends on it
  • The official statistics he used are flawed as they may not be reported correctly 
  • Social integration hasnt been verified or falsified
    - Therefore it doesnt prove that sociology is a science  
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Criticizing Durkheim - Intepretivists


  • Douglas sees suicide statistics as social constructs
  • Social constructs are the idea that statistics represent the activities of the people who construct the statistics rather than the actual criminal activity
  • For example, the decision to classify a death as suicide is taken by a coroner. Thereofre there may be bias in teh verdicts which are reached
  • The findings that a high level of integration leads to low suicide rates can be explained by the fact that friends and relatives of socially integrated individual's may deny that the death was a suicide due to guilt
    - They might even destroy the suicide notes
  • Douglas also criticised Durkheim for relying on official statistics and instead felt that we should classify each death according to its meaning for the deceased by analysing sucide notes and diaries

Baechler (1979)

  • Developes Douglas's approach, defining suicides in terms of the types of solution they offer to different types of situation
    -Escapist suicides - Involve fleeing from an intolerable situation 
    -Aggressive suicides - Used to harm others
    -Oblative Suicides - Used to obtain something that is desired
    -Ludic suicides - Involve taking risks for excitement or as an ordeal 
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Douglas's 4 Social Reasons for Suicide

Transforming the self

  • Suicide to be releases from the cares of the world

Transforming oneself for others

  • Suicide to tell everyone the persons feelings about something

Achieving Fellow Feeling

  • Suicide to ask for help/sympathy
  • The person might want to be found 

Gaining Revenge

  • Person forced to a position where they have to commit suicide
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Integrating Positivist and Interpretivist Approach


  • Taylor takes a realist approach
  • He argues that suicide statistics cant be seen as valid
    - E.g. in a study of 32 people who has died after being hit by tube trains over half had the verdict of suicide
  • We can still explain suicide however
  • We can discover the real patterns and causes of suicide without basing it on suicide statistics by revealing the structures and causes which arent directly observable 
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Taylor's 4 Types of Suicide

Ectopic - The individual is detached from others so suicide is both private and self contained
Symphysic - The individual has an overwhelming attachment to a person/people. Suicide isnt self contained. It is a way of communicating a message to others  

Submissive Suicide - Certain and ectopic

  • The person is certain about themselves and their suicide is deadly serious because they know they want to die

Sacrifice Suicide - Certain and Symphysic 

  • The person is certain about others
  • Their attempt is serious and they know they have to kill themselves
  • They seek to communicate the blame to the others for their death

Thanatation Suicide - Uncertain and Ectopic

  • The person is uncertain about themselves
  • They may be uncertain of what other think of them
  • Their suicide involves risk taking

Appeal Suicide - Uncertain and Symphysic 

  • The person is uncertain about others 
  • They have doubts about their importance to others
  • Their suicide involves risk taking
  • Suicide is a way of communication to change someone else
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Examples of Taylor's 4 Types of Suicide

Submissive Suicide

  • Person with a terminal illness commits suicide because they know they have no future

Sacrifice Suicide

  • The person commits suicide because of a partner's betrayal e.g. an affair

Thanatation Suicide

  • Someone plays Russian roulette 
  • They know they may not survive it

Appeal Suicide

  • The person cuts their wrists horizontally
  • They know its probably not going to kill them but its sending a message to a partner who may be leaving them to make them stay
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