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Introduction to suicide
* A specifically human problem - only humans can will their death and kill themselves. * Ubiquitous - no period of history without records of suicide, no societies where suicide does not occur. * Only a small number of people deliberately end their lives but an area of intense sociological interest - about 7000 works. * Studied for some time, for example, Mazaryk in 1881.
The classic study is Durkheim (1897) 'Le suicide'. But there is a difference of opinion as to the value of Durkheim's work. Selvin argues, 'sixty years after it first appeared in print... suicide is still a model of social research.' But Sachs said, 'In terms of the history of Sociology, nothing is more tragic than that Durkheim's Suicide should be conceived as a model of investigation.' Why did Durkheim study suicide?
* Establish sociology as an academic discipline with a distinct approach to the social. * Establish a 'scientific' methodology and approach.
Some texts argue that Durkheim was a positivist. More recent evaluations, for example, Taylor, argue that Durkheim was a realist. Main findings
Factors uncovered through use of official statistics: suicide varies according to: religion, family size, political/national crises, economic conditions, occupational groups, the divorce rate.
* Within single societies the suicide rate remains constant. * Suicide rate varies between societies.
* Suicide rate varies between different groups within the same society. Durkheim, therefore, discounted individualistic explanations of suicide. He also eliminated statistically factors such as climate, seasons, alcoholism, heredity and mental state. Durkheim's analysis
Based on 'social bonds' that bind an individual to society:
* 'Social integration': the individuals commitment to norms, values, beliefs. * 'Moral regulation': societal/group control over individual desires. Equilibrium an appropriate degree of integration and regulation. Any imbalance increases suicide. Four types of suicide
* Egoistic - inadequate integration
* Altruistic - excessive integration
* Anomic - inadequate regulation
* Fatalistic - excessive regulation
Emphasis on integration, which protects individual from suicidal forces, is what - according to Taylor (1988) - makes Durkheim a realist. Support for Durkheim
* Connection between suicide rate and economic crisis - Pierce (1967), Marshall and Hodge (1981). * Connection between suicide rate and industrialisation - Labovitz and Brinkerhof. * A number of studies have confirmed link with divorce.
* Sainsbury (1980) links between suicide and social isolation. Egoistic suicide
* Suicide rate fell in both world wars.
* Suicide rate falls during Presidential elections.
* Eglin suggests that: 'it may be argued that little has been added to the results of Durkheim's work by over 80 years of subsequent research'. Criticisms
These are criticisms from within the positivist perspective. These sociologists share Durkheim's general approach to the study of suicide - the reliance on statistics - but question some of his findings, or reinterpret the results. So these criticisms are of Durkheim's interpretation of his findings, not of his fundamental approach: Halbwachs (1930) - several factors Durkheim isolates and associates with suicide are combined in urban living. Gibbs and Martib (1964) - no adequate operational definition of social integration. Wasserman (1983) - decline in suicide rate during war due to economic changes, unemployment declines.
Extreme positivists make a number of criticisms of the methodology of Durkheim's work. These criticisms actually illustrate that we should perhaps consider Durkheim a realist: * Durkheim fails to consider the issues of reliability and validity. *...
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