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A2 Sociology - Crime and Deviance lesson 14
Transcript of A2 Sociology - Crime and Deviance lesson 14
To understand how the phenomenon of suicide can be explained in terms of sociological enquiry.
Why would a sociologist want to study suicide?
Suicide was, and still is, regarded as a highly individualistic act with many reasons for its occurance being attributed to issues that surround the individual, such as depression.
Many of the medical professions such as Psychology concur that suicide is an indiviual act - so where does sociology fit in?
Sociologist Emile Durkheim wanted to show that sociology could explain aspects of suicide that psychology could not. In an attempt to disprove psychological reason, he studied suicide rates to uncover that the act of taking your own life was not solely linked to personal circumstances.
In order to study suicide on a social level, Durkheim collected statistical data that related to the number of suicide deaths from different European countries.
These statistics are known as 'social facts' - empirical data that reflects the rate and frequency of occurences within society. This data can be compared to discover patterns or correlations between societies.
Durkheim discovered through comparative analysis that there is a stability of suicide rates within societies. He also discovered that there is consistant variations in the rate of suicide within certain groups of societies.
Suicide rates were higher in Protestant compared to Catholic countries.
Jews had a low suicide rate.
Married people are more suicidal than singletons.
High rates of suicide were correlated with high levels of education (but not in relation to religion).
He went on to discover the correlation of more 'social facts':
Upon discovering social factors that correlate with suicide rates, Durkheim began to distinguish between types of suicide that linked individuals to their relationship with society.
Individuals that are insufficiently integrated into social groups and society as a whole.
Individuals that are not sufficiently regulated. Traditional norms and values are disrupted by rapid social change and creates uncertainty in society.
Well integrated members of society who sacrifice their own life out of a sense of duty to others in the wider community.
Well regulated members of society are driven to suicide by the extremely oppressive nature of their existence. Doesn't really apply to modern society as it applied more to slavery.
Can statistics reflect the truth about suicide?
The problem with suicide statistics:
The role of the coroner - it is essentially the decision of the coroner to determin as to whether a death is in fact a suicide.
Only suicides that are recorded become part of the statistical data.
Suicide statistics only included certain groups of people and tend to miss out social groups.
The problem with Durkheim....
He thought that suicide could be studied and tested much the same way as you would conduct science experiments.....
Some sociologists didn't agree with this!
Durkheim with his 'social facts' caused a bit of ruckuses and fruckuses in the world of soc, which started to get the back up of the interpretivists....
You could say that Durkheim saw himself as a bit of a Positivist....
That doesn't mean that he was happy about suicide...
Interpretivists don't see suicide as a 'social fact'. They see suicide as a 'social construct'!
The role of the coroner:
In order to determin whether a death is a suicide, a coroner has to decide that:
a) The person was not killed by someone else.
b) That there was intention.
And this is the part that the interpretivists have issues with.
Durkheim accepts that the coroners decision is truth and fact.
Interpretivists such as Douglas argue that there are other 'parties' involved in the decision.
The one piece of evidence that coroner needs to certify a death as suicide is the existence of a note.
There are certain situations whereby the people in close contact with the deceased will not accept a suicide verdict.
Family members of the deceased are often reluctant to accept that their loved one has committed suicide. They may remove the suicide note and even convince the coroner that the death was accidental.
Deaths that are not recorded as suicide will receive a verdict of accidental death or an open verdict.
Certain religions have different views on suicide. In Catholicism, suicide is deeply shameful therefore a suicide verdict is avoided. The body may be repositioned or tampered with in order to avoid a suicide verdict.
This would explain Durkheims's 'social facts' concerning Catholicism and suicide rates.
To evaluate Durkheim's theory on suicide with other sociological perspectives.
Therefore, suicide statistics are results of interactions and negotiations between the coroner and members who are closely involved with the deceased. For interpretivists statistics are not a valid source of data.
Interpretivists feel that more valuable data can be obtained through qualitative means such as compiling case studies. This is achieved by:
Interviewing the friends and family of the deceased.
Identifying physical and mental health issues.
Examination of events leading up to death.
Interpretivists also accept that the real reason for a person to commit suicide ultimately dies with them and that any attempt sociologists make discovering reasons are merely inferences.
Douglas determined that there are 4 types of suicide that differ from that of Durkheim:
Transformation of the soul suicide - used as a way getting to heaven or reaching the next level.
Transformation of the self suicide - used as a way to get people to think of you differently.
Sympathy suicide - used as a way of making people feel sorry for you.
Revenge suicide - used as a way of making people feel guitly about your death.
French sociologist Baechler (also and interpretivist) assessed that suicide is an extreme reaction to problematic life situations. He classified 4 types of suicide.
Escapist suicides - a 'way out' of terminal illness, guilt or grief.
Aggressive suicides - a way of punishing someone.
Oblative suicide - Giving up your life to save someone elses. Relates to people wanting to join someone who has already passed.
Ludic suicides - taking deliberate risks that could be fatal.
Atkinson looked at the role of the coroner in terms of the validity of suicide statistics. He asserted that coroners work to a 'suicide stereotype' whereby they would look for particular evidence that would identify and categorise a death as suicide. Essentially coroners make educated assumptions based on typical suicides.
Atkinson concluded that it was therefore impossible to study suicide both scientifically and sociologically.
Atkinson was a Phenomenologist - they don't believe in science or sociology... they think that things just happen and that there is no way of knowing the reason why because it cannot be studied. They argue.... a lot with other sociologists.
Realist sociologist Taylor identified that there were 'underlying, unobservable structures and causal processess' that related to why people commited suicide and why not everyone leaves a note.
Submissive suicides - Occur when a person is certain about themselves and their life but see themselves as already dead. This type of suicide is very serious as the person is sure that they wish to end their life.
Thanatation suicide - Suicide is an attempt because the person is unsure of themselves. The person may attempt suicide multiple times and may even get a thrill out of it as they feel a sense of power from 'cheating' death.
(How a person thinks about themself)
(A person's relationship with others)
Sacrifice Suicides - When a person feels that someone else has made their life unbearable.
Appeal suicides - The result of uncertainty over the attitudes of others towards them. People will show that they are willing to kill themselves for the sake of a response from others. In this case the person will attempt to inform someone of their intentions so that they can be saved.
Private suicides - no note left
Public suicides - Notes left
Suicide is an individual act - people's true intentions cannot ever be ascertained, therefore cannot be classified into neat little categories.....
For example, suicide bombers
For example during a resession
For example single people or drug addicts
A modern day example would be suicide in prison