Interpretivists and Suicide

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Interpretivist sociologists such as Douglas and Atkinson have questioned the reliability and validity of suicide statistics, and are critical of Durkheim’s hypothesis that suicide rates are the product of social integration and moral regulation. Douglas contends that Durkheim failed to acknowledge that suicide rates reflect the cultural meanings attached to suicidal action in a particular society. Cultural interpretations of suicide can influence the statistics in a variety of ways.

Societies do not share the same meaning of suicide, for example in some societies such as Japan, suicidal action is regarded as positive or honourable, whilst in others it is regarded as negative, deviant or morally wrong. Therefore people’s potential for suicide will, to some extent, depend upon the societal interpretation of suicide.

Douglas suggests that the more integrated a community is, the more likely it will be that a higher proportion of suicide will be covered up rather than prevented. These societies tend to interpret suicide as wrong and shameful, so relatives and friends may go to great lengths to hide evidence of suicide. Douglas therefore argues that social integration influences the recording of a death as suicide, and not the decision to kill oneself.

Atkinson suggests that suicide rates are socially constructed. He argues that suicide statistics are the end product of a complex set of interactions and interpretations involving victims, doctors, friends and relatives of the deceased, and most importantly, coroners.

Coroners have to follow certain formal rules when investigating how a person died, for example a post mortem must be carried out and the coroners’ officers will investigate the circumstances of the death – they will collect evidence.  Coroners weigh


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