An Introduction to the Sociology of Suicide
The first part of our work on Crime and Deviance will be on Suicide. This will help you to understand the relationship between theory and method and the debate about whether sociology can be described as “scientific”.
Studying suicide should help you:
1. Understand how Sociology has developed over time.
2. Gain insight into the relationship between theory and method.
3. Give you an excellent methodological case study.
4. Prepare for the exam – “Suicide” can be used as an example on many potential exam questions.
During your first A2 Sociology lesson with DC, you need to conduct an independent research task and complete the below.
Emile Durkheim is often described as a “Positivist”. What do you understand this to mean?
Clue: you must comment on sociology as a science and compare Durkheim’s method with that of the natural sciences.
Positivism is used to describe an approach to the study of society that relies specifically on scientific evidence, such as experiments and statistics, to reveal how society operates.
They believe that sociology can be treated as a science, and that like the natural sciences, if a few people are in the same situation, the outcome would be the same too. This is similar to natural sciences, that if two gases are mixed together it would always produce the same chemical reaction. Durkheim, as a positivist, thought the same of humans.
Durkheim published “Le Suicide” in 1897. Why did he choose this as the focus of his research? What was he trying to prove?
Durkheim, a macro functionalist and one of the most dominant positivist sociologists, wanted to prove that sociology is, and can be treated as a science. In order to demonstrate this he decided to study suicide. The reasons for this are obvious, as nobody from the dead was going to explicitly contradict his reasoning. Therefore, he had a chance to confirm his theory and show that similar to science, a particular pattern can be found in suicide victims.
Durkheim decided that there are four types of Suicide. Represent these in the form of a diagram.
What do you feel the three main findings of Durkheim’s work are?
1. all voluntary deaths are a product of social forces.
2. The four types of suicide
3. suicide is not an individual act; rather it is a social act.
Interpretation and Application ( I & A)
Go to the following web address: http://indiatogether.org/2004/aug/rgh-suicide.htm
You will find an article about the sudden increase in suicides this year in Bangalore. Durkheim’s work is now 107 years old. Your task is:
How can Durkheim’s work can help us to understand why the pattern of suicide is changing in Bangalore?
One reason that the pattern may be changing is because of ‘the prejudice among south Indian families against education in the humanities. At home, kids are told that engineering (and, at a pinch, medicine) are the only worthwhile subjects.’ Durkheim would identify this as fatalistic suicide, as the individuals feel as though they have no freedom of choice, and are always told what to do.
Now begin your reading on Interpretivist approaches to Suicide(see the work of Douglas, Atkinson, Baechler, Stengel).
What do you think the work of those Interpretivist Sociologists above has in common?
They believe that humans are unpredictable, therefore sociology cannot be scientific. They disagree with Durkheim essentially because they consider official statistics to be useless and inadequate as they are all a product of people’s interpretation i.e. socially constructed, and argue that illustrating sociology as a science is impossible because this will include measuring the immeasurable and defining the indefinable and it is impossible to measure suicide.
What would you see as the main difference between their approach and that of Durkheim?
The main difference would be that interpretivists totally disagree that sociology