Suicide could be defined as; the acts of taking one’s own life voluntary and intentionally- most people seeing it as an individual act.
Emile Durkheim wrote Le Suicide to prove that suicide wasn’t just an individual act but one that was social. He used official statistics and quantitative data to back up his hypothesis. Through these stats, he found there were consistent differences in suicide rates between different societies and contexts: protestant countries were discovered to have had higher rates than those of Catholic countries- this was probably due to the facet that suicide was seen as a sin and the Catholic community were more collective. He also found suicide rates were at the lowest at times of war- noticing that at times of upheaval, people were more as one.
Durkheim then gathered a theory that social integration and regulation were the factors which determined the level of suicide in any society. Within this theory, he depicted four kinds of suicide: egoistic- a sense of isolation, where communities weren’t as closely knit as others- any sense of belonging wasn’t there. Altruistic- he described this as members of societies who believed their lives were less important than the needs of the group or society. Anomic- this occurred in modern western societies at times of massive change and upheaval. Finally, fatalistic suicide, which Durkheim found occurred in societies that were over-regulated or restricted the lives of its members, where they found death, seemed to be their only option.
Jack Douglas argued that Durkheim failed to acknowledge that suicide meant different things to people/societies. For example, in Japan, dying for their leader was seen as a great honour and others were dying due to grief or depression. As an interpretivist, he believed statistics were an unreliable judgement to base conclusions upon and thought methods such as; interviews with the families, diaries and/or letters were more favourable as they were more descriptive, in depth and valid as opposed to stats. He used these to develop a typology of suicide. He suggested that the most common social meanings of suicide in modern industrial societies are: transformation of the soul- in terms of religion and reaching heaven. Transformation of the self- persuading others to think of you differently. As a means of gaining sympathy and as a means of inducing guilt.
Maxwell Atkinson agreed with Douglas, in the sense that the scientific approach of positivists was incorrect. He argued that suicide statistics were as much a social construction as any other part of the social world-