Suicide according to the dicti…
Suicide according to the dictionary of sociology (2005) is referred to as the intentional killing of oneself.
Suicide is not a new phenomenon there have been accounts of suicide that go back centuries. Suicide is a label applied to certain types of death and is constructed by society therefore the meaning of suicide may also differ in different societies and over time. Hobbs ( ) stated, ‘men who voluntarily hurt or kill themselves were not compos mentis’. A century later Hume ( ) wrote ‘Suicide is courageous and society could benefit from the actions’. Suicide is an important issue in society and sociologists have been attempting to explain why suicides happens over many years. One of the founding fathers of sociology Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) carried out a major study of suicide in the nineteenth century, this work has influenced many other sociologists to understand suicide, causes of suicide and is a classical reference point for sociologists (Giddens 1971) Durkheim’s theory on suicide (1897) suggests that it is the society that causes suicidal tendencies, Durkheim explains this through ‘social facts’ to do this Durkheim theory used statistical data which is a positive approach to research. This has led to criticism of Durkheim’s work by sociologists that take an interpretive view on suicide they suggest suicide needs to be explored and understood subjectively.
This work will explain the differences between positive and interpretivist research, look at the definitions of suicide in relation to the different interpretations of positive and interpretive theorists and assess their successes or failures in the interpretation. Positivists such as Durkheim prefer quantitative statistical data, a natural scientific method that leads to a macro approach to the research and assume that society has objective social facts and society shapes the individual. These social facts can therefore exert influence on the members of society. Positivists remain detached from the research and believe the results of this type of research is reliable due to the statistics used, the reproductivity and the research is objective (Bryman 20012). On the other-hand interpretivist don’t fully reject positivist theory. Max Weber (1864-1920) a main influencer of interpretivist theory understood that the ‘natural science’ and ‘social science’ are very different and need different methods and interpretations (Bryman 2012). Interpretivists argue that individuals can change their behaviour.
Interpretivists believe that reality is constructed by the individuals. Therefore, the individuals actions are a consequence to the meanings they attach to it. Interpretivists disagree with the external forces. Interpretivists view research with a micro approach focus is on the individual not the whole society as with the positivists macro approach. Interpretivists build rapport and empathise with ethnographic research that is qualitive with subjective meanings that create the validity (Bryman 2012).Durkheim believed that suicide was a result of sociological causes. Social solidarity or lack of solidarity in society leads too suicide (Durkheim 1975).
He used suicide rates to define suicide and then label suicide as a ‘social fact’ (Giddens 1971). Durkheim’s study of suicide (1897) used statistical data from different countries looking at race, age, gender, relationship status and religion to establish patterns in suicide statistics. Durkheim discusses three main types of suicide with a few comments on a fourth type of suicide in societies. Durkheim categorises suicide as Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomie and Fatalistic suicide.Egoistic suicide where there is low integration with the family which increases the risks of suicide (Durkheim 1975). For Durkheim the family structure was important factor not the characteristics of the spouses. Along with differences in structures of religion.
Durkheim (1975) discussed that the suicide rate was lower for Catholics than Protestant and believed this was due to the Protestant religion encouraged individualism while the Catholic encourage a greater sense of solidarity a catholic family. Weber( DATE) also discussed the self-reliant nature of the Protestant work ethic and how this could cause anxiety and egotism. Altruistic suicide where suicide occurs due to high levels of integration. An individual’s life is overwhelmed by customs that are ridged. Durkheim (1975) stated that in modern societies army members are at risk due to the level of obedience and when religious sacrifice suicides occur.Durkheim (1975) discussed Anomie suicide as disconnect from social change which occurs when the social norms of the society are confused at times of social change and the individual is not able to adapt to these changes. Durkheim suggested this would happen if there was a sudden unexpected death in the family leaving behind a widow or economic changes and the individual is unable to cope with prosperity or austerity.
Fatalistic suicide Durkheim did not go into a great amount of detail with fatalistic suicide but states this is when there is excessive social control and suicide is higher when this is the case. This would apply to prisoners and slaves who experience no freedom or individuality. Durkheim’s intention was not to explain the individual causes of suicide he classified different suicide to show the variables in suicides with regards to either high or levels of social solidarity. Durkheim’s (1975) positive approach to suicide that puts the society as the cause of suicide however Durkheim was also inconsistent with this as at some points within the study he places the individual consciousness and the individual ability to cope in certain situations as influences on suicide. This has led to Durkheim’s work being highly criticised. Douglas (1967) criticised Durkheim’s view on suicide and stated Durkheim ignored the individual. Douglas wanted to put meaning to the suicide, his study relied on interviews of people connected to the victim and suggested the need to interpret the meanings given to the action of suicide by looking at notes diaries and considering the cultural context.
Douglas (1967) argued with Durkheim’s statistics as the cultural differences in the meaning of suicide may alter the statistics Durkheim used. Douglas (1967) claimed that coroners were influenced by other parties connected to the victim again giving inaccurate information in Durkheim’s findings as the suicide. Douglas (1967) suggested that the coroners decisions were based on probability and were untrustworthy. However, Douglas can be easily criticised as sociologists would still need to interpret the death as suicide just as the coroners interpret the deaths as suicide. Douglas research is also inconsistent as he does relate to statistical information can be used but then states it is a product of the coroner’s interpretation.Atkinson (1978) suggests there are problems with statistical data Also, the coroner interprets the death and applies the label Steve Taylor a realist approach does not agree that statistics should be taken as facts. Not all suicidal attempts are carried out with the intent on dying.
Taylor (1982) there are 2 types of suicide Ectopic and Symphysic.Agrees that use of stats gives a broad idea but cannot give the full picture of suicide as it ignores the individual and there motives along with the fact that it is important to include failed attempts of suicide to analyse why the individual would attempt to commit suicide however research into this would be extremely ethical today.Conclusion – suicide cannot be explained as simply as Durkheim theorised it. Drawing from the information there is no ideal way to study suicide. Statistical information may be able to give a guide on suicide rates however the accuracy of the statistical data will always be questioned as not only are coroner reports and the label of suicide attached to a death made on a variety of clues or assumptions. There will be influences from society families in making the decision but also no one will ever know if the death was intentional, if suicide notes are real. There are many ways to approach the study of suicide.
Durkheim’s work has been highly criticised and there are flaws within his research. Issues with methodology and picking the data he used however Durkheim has highlighted an issue in all societies that suicide is constant fact over time.