1. Durkheim chose to study an act such as suicide as he aimed to prove there are sociological causes behind suicide, and therefore proving sociology was a distinct and genuinely scientific discipline.
2. Social facts have three features, they are external to individuals, they constrain individuals, shaping their behaviour and also they are greater than individuals, so exist on a greater level.
3. Anomic suicide is caused by too little regulation in a rapidly changing society.
4. Modern societies are less effective in regulating individuals, causing low levels of integration.
5. Escape, cry for help, revenge.
6. Suicide note, mode of death, life history and location or circumstances.
7. Where the suicide is a result of feelings towards someone else, or a plea to them.
8. Altruistic suicide
Essay question: using material from item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of different sociological approaches to suicide:
When studying suicide, there are two different sociological approaches to the topic. Firstly, positivist sociologists such as Durkheim look to explain suicide using quantitative, measurable data, from official statistics. This involves using figures and patterns, to explain the way in which different societies have different suicide rates, due to social reasons.
Durkheim used these statistics to prove that suicide rates could not simply be a result of motives of the individual. Interpretivists on the other hand have looked to demolish Durkheims theory, by focusing on the meanings of suicide for those involved. Durkheim’s theory stated that suicide rates were an effect of social facts or forces acting upon individuals, and due to alternative forces acting differently in varying societies, this resulted in differing suicide rates. Durkheim identified four types of suicide, two of each reflecting the social facts of social integration, where the individual feels a sense of belonging to a group, and moral regulation, where the individuals actions and desires are kept in check by norms and values, and also by the state or government.
Durkheim argues that suicide results from too much or too little of these things, presenting a fourfold typology of suicide. Egoistic suicide is caused by too little social integration, stemming from a lack of social ties within society. This type of suicide is less common during times of war according to Durkheim, as there is a stronger sense of belonging and group purpose in society. Altruistic suicide, the opposite of egoistic results from too much social integration, altruism the act of putting someone else before yourself, resulting in suicide to benefit the group you are part of.
The individual feels it is their duty to die, such as an extremist Muslim taking their life to better their cult. Anomic suicide is caused by too little moral regulation, leaving the individual feeling unclear about the norms of society. An example of this is the Wall Street crash, leading to the Great Depression. Finally, Fatalistic suicide is the result of too much social regulation, where the individuals fate is controlled. This suicide type is most common among prisoners and slaves. From a positivist point of view, this classification system explains the four reasons behind suicide, and ignores the personal reasons behind suicide, so is criticised greatly by Interpretivists.
Therefore this approach is only slightly useful, as it categorises four different reasons for suicide, without delving in to the specific motives behind taking ones life. A large criticism of Durkheim’s positivist approach comes from Interpretivist Douglas, who takes a largely interactionalist approach, he criticises Durkheim on two main accounts. Firstly, the use of suicide statistics. The verdict of suicide is given by a coroner, and therefore bias may be incurred, such as someone who isn’t very well integrated being unlikely to have friends or family to deny that they would commit suicide, given Durkheim distorted figures that are not representative of the actual suicide rate. Secondly, Douglas states that Durkheim ignores the meaning of suicide for those who kill themselves, as he assumes suicide has a fixed or constant meaning.
Douglas notes that suicide can have different meanings between cultures, as in the Japanese Samurai culture, suicide is an act carried out when a warrior is disgraced, and not for the reasons Durkheim suggests, conflicting his findings. Douglas also believes that we must use qualitative data to study the meaning of the suicide for the deceased, such as notes and diaries, or interviews with loved ones, from these a typology can be created of suicidal meanings, not just stats and reasons within the society. Douglas further criticises Durkheim’s use of statistics, by stating that by using qualitative data, the labels coroners place on suicides are overcome and a better real rate of suicide can be found. Douglas’s theory relates to item A exclusively, as item A shows that different European coroners (Danish and English) gave different verdicts on suicide.
This shows that the verdict is not consistent, and a true account of suicide may be subjective, whereas Douglas’s method of using qualitative data is objective, as it provides a true incite in to the motives for suicide. Douglas’s approach far more useful when examining suicide, as with his method the true reason for suicide may be a lot easier to obtain if it was operationalised. Gibbs and Martin on the other hand aim to support Durkheim, and also take a positivist approach. However they feel that Durkheim did not operationalise his theory of integration, and therefore themselves gave it a way to be measured.
They claim that integration is a situation in which lasting relationships are formed, and also when an individual had status integration, where their status is compatible within society. Gibbs and Martin state that where there is little status integration, for example well educated people having low paid jobs, the suicide rate will be higher.
This is due to the fact that they do not feel fulfilled, and are not able to realise their potential, so feel they have little purpose in life. Gibbs and Martins approach isn’t very useful, as in a rapidly changing society experiencing many economic hardships, status integration is likely to fluctuate, causing varied suicide rates however Durkheim found that suicide is at a more or less constant, therefore disproving Gibbs and Martins theory from the same perspective. However it isn’t only the positivist perspective that contradicts itself, the Interpretivist approach of Douglas is itself questioned by Interpretivist theorist Atkinson when taking an ethnomethodological approach. Atkinson states that we cannot determine the ‘real rate’ of suicide, as we cannot ask the deceased their reasons for killing themselves.
Thus forth, Atkinson notes we have to focus on how coroners categorise suicides, and through qualitative methods Atkinson found that Coroners have developed a common-sense theory about the typical suicide. Therefore if a case fits the categories of their common-sense theory, it is more likely to be classified as a suicide. Atkinson’s theory is also useful, as it criticises Durkehim’s theory, by showing that statistics are formulated by the coroners, so they just echo their judgement and more people who should fit in to the common-sense theory will, due to their life history, or circumstances.
Overall, Atkinson’s approach is the most useful when studying suicide, as it reveals that the coroners are the ones who shape the statistics, and all theories have to work around the judgement of these individuals, when it could well be false or misinformed. Steve Taylor takes a different approach to both positivists and interpretivists, like the interpretivists, he argues that suicide statistics can not be taken as valid. This is due to suicide verdicts being given without conclusive evidence, and factors such as mental health problems being used by coroners as indicators of suicidal intent.
However, like positivists, he believes it is possible to explain suicide, by finding real patterns and causes. Taylor notes that not all attempts of suicide result in actual suicide, so therefore could be a cry for help, or attention. Taylor defines four types of suicide, the first two, self directed suicides are private suicides, where the individual is psychologically detached from others.
The first one, submissive suicide is a deadly serious attempt of suicide where the individual feels they have no future. The second, thanatation suicide is where the individual is uncertain about themselves, and involves risk, or chance. The second type, symphysic suicide is where the individual had an attachment to someone else, and uses their suicide to communicate with others. Firstly, sacrifice suicides are a result of knowing the person they are attached to has done something or they themselves that is unforgivable, and they feel they can not go on living. It may also be used as a ploy to make the other person feel guilt. Further, an appeal suicide is used to seeks to change the other persons behaviour, they are acts of “despair and hope” combining the wish to die with the wish to change things for the better.
In conclusion, Taylor’s theory is useful in defining suicide, as it looks at the individuals state of mind when committing or attempting suicide. However an individual may be uncertain about themselves and someone else, a theory for which his ideas do not cater. In conclusion, every different sociological approach to suicide has its flaws and gaps, and only through a combination of all of these theories would it be possible to get perfect, representative statistics on suicide. However this may still not be possible, as without the ability to communicate with the deceased, no matter how strong an assumption on why somebody has committed suicide, their true motive cannot be found without the use of a suicide not, which even then can be forged. Due to this, finding the true reasons and forming statistics would be far too time consuming and costly, so coroners ultimately have to use their common-sense theory to determine a suicide.