The Sociology
of Suicide
• According to Durkheim, suicide is not an individual act. It is
caused by some power which is over and above the
individu...
Durkheim classified different types of suicides on the basis of
different types of relationship between the individual and...
• Although Durkheim's theory of suicide has contributed
much about the understanding of the phenomenon
because of his focu...
• Douglas argues that sociological analysis should focus on
meaning rather than social structure.
• He argues that to unde...
• Jean Beachler developed on the work of Douglas. He
believed that suicide could only be explained through
personal factor...
• Steve Taylor criticizes both Douglas and Baechler
• Taylor’s research was conducted over 12 months where he
collected 32...
• Taylor concluded that suicide, and suicide attempts could
be divided into two categories…
• Etopic – inner directed, res...
• Atkinson believed that suicide statistics are more a
reflection of the coroner’s assumptions. They are socially
construc...
1)The data problem
Suicide is clearly not easy to study and thus there has tended
to be an over reliance on official stati...
3) Indicators of suicidal intent
Suicide notes:
1. Notes can conceal homicide and notes are only found in a
minority of ca...
Location and circumstances of death:
These give clues as to suicidal intent, for example a deserted
place is seen as more ...
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The Sociology of Suicide: Durkheim, Taylor, Beachlor & Atkinson

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The Sociology of Suicide: Durkheim, Taylor, Beachlor & Atkinson

  1. 1. The Sociology of Suicide
  2. 2. • According to Durkheim, suicide is not an individual act. It is caused by some power which is over and above the individual. • Suicide is the result of social disorganisation or lack of social integration or social solidarity. There are identifiable trends in suicide… • Suicide rates are higher in men than women • Suicide rates are higher among Protestants than Catholics and Jews. • Suicide rates are higher in times of peace than in times of war. • The higher the education level, the more likely it is that an individual would commit suicide
  3. 3. Durkheim classified different types of suicides on the basis of different types of relationship between the individual and society, based on integration and regulation in society (1) Egoistic suicide: • This is the suicide of self-centred person who lacks altruistic feelings and is usually cut off from main stream of the society when there is too little integration. (2) Altruistic suicide: • This type of suicide occurs when individuals and the group are too close and intimate, when there is too much integration. (3) Anomic suicide: • This type of suicide is due to little regulation in society. (4) Fatalistic suicide: • This type of suicide is due to overregulation in society.
  4. 4. • Although Durkheim's theory of suicide has contributed much about the understanding of the phenomenon because of his focus on social rather than on biological factors, the main weakness of the theory is that he has focused too much on only one factor, namely social factor and has forgotten or undermined other factors, thus making his theory unreliable and only one sided. Criticisms of Durkheim’s theory include… • Fails to consider the issues of reliability and validity. • Subjectivity in his work. • Durkheim's reference to suicidal forces or suicidogenic currents contradicts the scientific and factual approach of positivisms since these forces are unseen and unmeasurable. • Because these suicidal forces cannot be seen or measured the theory cannot be falsified - no evidence can disprove it.
  5. 5. • Douglas argues that sociological analysis should focus on meaning rather than social structure. • He argues that to understand suicide sociologically we should examine the meaning of suicide for the participants - using diaries, suicide notes, psychiatrist’s notes and biographies. He suggests a number of typical meanings suicide can have in modern society… • Suicide as reunion - release from cares/pressures. • Suicide as atonement - transforming oneself for others. • Suicide as revenge - most increased form in 20th century
  6. 6. • Jean Beachler developed on the work of Douglas. He believed that suicide could only be explained through personal factors rather than external factors. Using methods such as case studies and existing literature as his tools he concluded that suicide is both a response to a problem and a method to try and solve a problem. Baechler also distinguished four different types of suicide… • Escapist – Flight from an intolerable situation. • Aggressive- As a way of harming other people, make another person feel guilty. • Oblative- Sacrifice; giving their life to save others. • Ludie – Deliberate risks are taken that might lead to death.
  7. 7. • Steve Taylor criticizes both Douglas and Baechler • Taylor’s research was conducted over 12 months where he collected 32 cases of people throwing themselves under trains and looked at how the deaths were classified. Of the 32, 17 were classed as suicide, 5 as accidental deaths and 10 were open verdicts. Factors according to Taylor that made suicide verdicts more likely were… • • • • • A history of mental illness. Social Failure Social disgrace Person had no reason to be at the tube station Reports by witnesses on the state of mind.
  8. 8. • Taylor concluded that suicide, and suicide attempts could be divided into two categories… • Etopic – inner directed, results from what the person thinks about themselves • Symphysic – other directed, results from the person’s relationship with others. This results in four different types of suicide which are the result of personal situations, not wider society… • Submissive Suicide –certain about life and sees themselves as already dead. • Thanatation Suicide –uncertain about themselves, the suicide attempt is a gamble. • Sacrifice Suicide – Certain that others have made their life unbearable. • Appeal Suicide –person feeling uncertainty over the attitudes of others towards them.
  9. 9. • Atkinson believed that suicide statistics are more a reflection of the coroner’s assumptions. They are socially constructed. • He focuses on the methods used by coroners for how they categorise deaths as suicide. He advocates the use of Interviews, Observations & Inquests & coroner’s records in his research. • He believes that coroners hold a “common sense” theory for classifying deaths as suicide and certain factors can influence the decision…
  10. 10. 1)The data problem Suicide is clearly not easy to study and thus there has tended to be an over reliance on official statistics. Two main data problems have been investigated: investigations into the accuracy of official statistics, and investigations into the validity of such statistics. 2)Problems of the coroner The coroner has to conduct an inquest where he is forced to rely on clues to infer suicidal intent. In fact, a coroner constructs a psychological autopsy.
  11. 11. 3) Indicators of suicidal intent Suicide notes: 1. Notes can conceal homicide and notes are only found in a minority of cases, notes might be destroyed (by friends/relatives). 2. Study of suicide notes give some idea of the social meaning of suicide. Mode of death: 1. Certain types of death are more likely to be interpreted as suicide than others. For example, road deaths are unlikely to be viewed as suicide, but hanging is. 2. Some methods are less clear-cut. For example, drug overdoses, because there is the problem of proving intent, rather than a mistake. 3. The search for clues can lead to idiosyncratic rules of thumb in making a decision.
  12. 12. Location and circumstances of death: These give clues as to suicidal intent, for example a deserted place is seen as more likely to be a real attempt. There seems to be a belief that if someone wants to kill themselves, they will make a realistic attempt at it and steps will be taken to ensure the maximum probability of death. Life history and mental condition: Coroners tend to have ideas about the kinds of circumstance which can lead people to suicide. Atkinson believes suicide verdicts are the result of a complex interaction
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