Different sociologists have taken to the study of suicide. Positivists and Interpretivists have totally different views about society, sociology and how to study suicide.Positivism is the belief that society can and should be studied scientifically and that sociology should model itself on the logic of natural methods of natural sciences. Interpretivism is the idea that society in an objective , observable form; rather it is experienced subjectively because we give it meaning by the way we behave.This essay will explore these various strengths and weaknesses of these approaches in explaining suicide. Durkheim was one of the first sociologist to study suicide.He took a positivist approach suicide, although sometimes argued to be realist like. Durkheim argues the suicide rate is a social fact. Using quantitative data from official statistics, Durkheim analysed the suicide rate from various European countries. He noted four regular patterns. The suicide rate for any given society remained more or less constant over time. When the rates did change they coincided with other changes. For example rates fell during wartime, but rose during economic depression or prosperity. Different societies had different rates. Within a society the rates vary considerably between social groups. For example Catholics had lower rates than Protestants. For Durkheim these patterns were evidence that suicide rates couldn’t simply be the result of the motives of individuals. For example the population of the army constantly changes but the suicide rate remains the same. Instead of giving a psychological explanation Durkheim explains the suicide rate as the effect of social facts acting on the individual. In different societies these forces act with different degrees of intensity resulting in different suicide rates.Durkheim argues modern and traditional society differs in levels of integration and regulation, and this means that we tend to find different types of suicide in each type of society. Modern industrial societies have lower levels of integration. Individual’s rights and freedoms become more important than obligations to the group. This weakens social bonds and gives rise to egoistic suicides. Also modern societies are less effective in regulating individuals because they undergo rapid social change which undermines accepted norms and produces anomic suicides.Traditional pre industrial societies have higher levels of integration. The group is more important than the individual and this gives rise to altruistic suicides.
Similarly these societies strictly regulate their member’s lives and impose rigidly ascribed statuses that limit individual’s opportunities and this produces fatalistic suicides. Other positivists since Durkheim have built on his work. Maurice Halbwachs accepted his positivist approach but added to his theory. Halbwachs argued differences between urban and rural residence were the main reasons for variations in suicide rates.
Higher rates among protestants, people living alone etc were more a function of their urban location; these groups were more likely to be found in towns where people live more isolated lives. Sainsbury found suicide in London boroughs were highest where the levels of social disorganisation were highest. Interpretivist sociologists disagree with Durkheim's approach and explanation of suicide.Jack Douglas was interested in the meaning suicide has for the deceased and in the way coroners label deaths as suicides. He criticises Durkheim’s study of suicide on the grounds that the decision to classify a death as a suicide is taken by a coroner and influenced by other social actors and this may produce bias in the verdicts reached. Douglas argues this may explain the patterns Durkheim found. For example the finding that a high level of integration leads to low suicide rates can be explained by the fact well