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Synoptic – theory and methods
    Lesson 1
Introduction and Durkheim
Before we start…
   Suicide is a very sensitive topic. If anyone
    has any concerns with this, please talk to
    me. Alternatively…
   The Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90
   Read the article on Bridgend.
   Brainstorm all the reasons for this social
   Why would sociologists be interested in suicide?
   Why would a psychologist be interested in
   How could you study suicide – think of at least 3
   To consider factors than suggest a death is not
    accidental, but suicidal
   To be able to form initial ideas about the process
    of classifying a death as a suicide
   To be able to consider why people commit suicide
   To be able to understand Durkheim theory of
   To understand why sociologists are interested in
   To revise the limitations of official statistics
   If you believed a death was suicide, what
    would you be looking for to confirm that?

   What happens when a body is found?

   Who decides what is a suicide?

   What other verdicts of death are there?
Why are sociologists interested in
   Suicide is one of the most personal and
    individual decision a person can make – so
    why would sociologists – who look at the
    big picture – be concerned about what is a
    psychological problem?
   Brainstorm reasons why sociologists might
    be interested?
Durkheim – “Suicide: A Study” 1897
   Most other research has been a reaction to this initial
    research – either supporting or contradicting
   Why?
   To show sociology was a separate discipline to any other
   To find the least likely topic for sociological analysis so he
    could support the weight of sociology as an academic
   To show that suicide couldn’t fully be explained by an
    individual decision
   Wide availability of suicide statistics
TO be sociological…
   Durkheim had to show suicide rates were
    relatively stable over time – why would is
    have made a difference if they were varied
    over time in each country?
   Durkheim had to show that these were
    “social facts” – what are social facts and
    why how could suicide be a social fact?
   Do the following stats show this?
 Key findings from Statistics -
 rates of Suicide per million inhabitants

Country      1866-70      1871-75       1874-78   Numerical   Numerical   Numerical
                                                  position    position    position
Italy        30           35            38        1           1           1

Belgium      66           69            78        2           3           4

England      67           66            69        3           2           2

Norway       76           73            71        4           4           3

Austria      78           94            130       5           7           7

Sweden       85           81            91        6           5           5

Bavaria*     90           91            100       7           6           6

France       135          150           160       8           9           9

Prussia*     142          134           152       9           8           8

Denmark      277          258           255       10          10          10

Saxony*      293          267           334       11          11          11
W/S 1 on suicide statistics
   What is the problem with a correlation?
   Correlations found…
        Higher suicide rates in Protestant countries then in Catholic Countries -
        Jews had the lowest rate of any religious group – why?
        Married men committed more suicide than bachelors. However, a proper
         analysis (exclusion of men unlikely to get married - children) showed that
         suicide is higher among bachelors than among married men. - being a
         bachelor increased the likelihood of suicide by 160% (or marriage reduced
         it by 50%). – why?
        Childless married women were more likely to commit suicide than married
         women with children – why?
        There is a low suicide rate after political upheaval – why?
        Men were more likely to kill themselves than women – why?
        Higher levels of education are correlated with high levels of suicide – why?
Types of Suicide

    Fatalistic                Anomic

   Types of suicide were take from the
    research by Durkheim – decided by the
    regulation of the members of society, and
    their integration into that society
   Task – read the sheet (Haralambos) and
    note by each type info about it
Synoptic Link – Methodology mindmap the following
synoptic links

   Positivist or interpretivist?
   Strengths and limitations of official statistics?
   Strengths and limitations of cross cultural
   Strengths and limitations of social facts?
   Extention:
   How might other perspectives on suicide interpret
    this data/ research suicide?
The response to Durkheim
   Positivists – praise his work
   Refinements have been made, but never challenges his idea of
    using scientific methods
   Other Positivists believe it to be comprehensive and reliable
   Had been updated with new data and new statistical techniques to
    find new correlations, but generally accepted as sound
   Some believe he overestimated the importance of religion (seems
    true in modern world) and that he underestimated the importance of
    living in a rural V Urban environment
   Some criticised him for using immeasurable concepts – ones that
    couldn’t be measured – i.e. “integration” – which made it impossible
    to test the theory
Evaluation of Suicide statistics
   Look at the following case studies and identify the problems they highlight
    for suicide statistics…
   Jo tried to kill herself 3 times, each time she was saved by paramedics.
   Matt threw himself under a train. He has been in a coma for the last 3
   Penny was in the World trade centre when it got hit by the plane in 2001.
    She threw herself out of the window of the 21st floor rather than burn to
   Richard was found dead in his house. There was no note, but he had taken
    a higher than average dose of his prescription medication
   Tom lived life hard, often indulging in risky behaviours such as driving too
    fast while drunk, injecting drugs. One evening after breaking up with his
    girlfriend, he drove his car drunk into the central reservation of the
    motorway and died.
   Fill in the sheet about Durkheim’s approach
    to Suicide
   Watch the following videos – which are all about
   Which of Durkheim’s types of suicide do you think
    they fit?
        Lesson 2
The Interpretivists – Douglas and
   Fill in the gaps – evaluation of Durkheim’s work

   Key words
   Scientific integration positivists rural test
         comprehensive quantitative
         measurable        Defined       interpretivists
    religion bias urban           Official statistics
   TO be able to understand and evaluate the
    interpretivist theories of suicide
   To revise Durkheim’s theories of suicide
   Reject positivism and Durkheim's basic
   But they do believe that sociology can
    explain suicide
Douglas (1967) – The Social Meaning
of Suicide
   Criticised the validity of statistics
   Believed that the decision on whether a
    death is suicide is made by the coroner but
    influenced by other people – e.g. family and
   Bias therefore enters the decisions and this
    bias can explain the statistics – rather than
    “social facts”
   Why might someone with a very close family and
    lots of friends be less likely to be classed as
   Why would a death of a catholic be less likely to
    be described as suicide?
   Why are you more likely to want a friend to have
    died of an accident than of suicide?
   How might these effect the validity of official
   Douglas saw a decision on death as a
    process of negotiation, rather than an
    objective status
   He does believe that these are systematic
    biases – rather than variable over time – so
    there is some value to statistics
A second criticism
   Douglas didn’t agree that all suicides of the same
    type should have been categorised as the same
    without looking at the personal meaning behind
   Read your article on suicide bombers
   Brainstorm all the other reasons you can think of
    for being a suicide bomber… should they all fit
    into the same category by Durkheim?
   In different cultures, suicide has different
   Take the information and identify the
    meaning of suicide in different cultures
   How does this relate to sociology?
   Douglas believes that each suicide should
    be taken as a case study…
Brainstorm everything you know about the case study
method…inc eval…
   He believed that case studies should be based on
    interviews with people who knew the deceased
    well; he also believed that analysis of the diaries
    of the deceased and suicide notes
   Make a list of key evaluation points for the above
   How much relevant information do you think you
    would get?
   How do you think the diary of a suicidal person
    would be different to the diary of a non-suicidal
   He claimed the most common Western
    suicides are because of :
       Transformation of the soul (e.g. to get to heaven)
       Transformation of the self (to get others to think
        of you in a different way)
       As a means of achieving sympathy
       As a means of revenge by making others feel
Read the following case studies and decide which of Douglas’
types they fall into – then do the same for Durkheim and

   Extention:
   Where are there similarities and differences
    between the two theories?
Jean Baechler – Suicide as Problem
   Developed on Douglas’ work – using case studies
    and classifying them on their meaning
   Suicide as a way of responding to and attempts to
    solve a problem – only used when there is no
    alternative solution
   Suicide can after a number of different situations
    they are in response to and the type of solution
    they offer
                                                               – Types
                                                              of Suicide

              Escapist                                                                     Oblative                   Ludic

  Flight       Grief –
   from        loss of              vengeanc                                                    Transfigur
                         punishme              Crime    Blackmail          Appeal   Sacrifice                Ordeal           Game
intolerabl    somethin                 e                                                          ation
e situation       g
   For each type of suicide, annotate the sheet with
    an example
   Return to the case studies – where do they fit into
    these types
   Extention:
   Durkheim, Douglas and Baechler all use
    categories but arrived at them from different ways
    – does it mean positivism and interpretivism are
    trying to find the same end point? Are they that
Evaluation of Interpretivist approaches
   Don’t write anything, just think about the following questions…
   At what point do these become psychological?
   Do you think external causes for suicide can be found or should we
    look more specifically?
   Can we categorise such a personal act into groups and headings?
   How can we truly know why a person killed themselves and the
    meaning given to these?
   Case studies have included content analysis of diaries and suicide
    notes – what are the strengths and limitations of these?
   Are samples representative?
   Is it important that he included failed suicide attempts?
Key eval points
   Criticised for failing to recognise Durkheim’s work (Taylor)
   The categories are not always mutually exclusive – yet they
    claim to be
   Depends on how the researcher has interpreted the available
    info – Taylor suggests these categorise are no more reliable
    than official statistics
   Douglas contradicts himself – saying at points that the
    decision being whether a death is seen as suicide is
    judgement – and at other points saying we can find the
    causes of suicide
Extention activity
   Create a revision mind map of the
    interpretivist theory of suicide – highlighting
    in particular all your links to other areas of
   Fill out the sheets for the Interpretivists and
   Name 5 types of suicide according to Baechler
   Summarise Douglas's theory into 4 key points
   Give 3 evaluation points of the interpretivist
   Name two people who we have looked at as case
   Identify one criticism of Douglas
        Lesson 3
The Phenomenologists – Atkinson
         and Taylor
   Which of these is more likely to be suicide?
    Explain why…
   To understand the Phenomenologists
    theory of suicide
   To be able to criticise this theory of suicide
What do Phenomenologists believe?
  Phenomenology argues that the only 'PHENOMENA' that we can
   be sure of is that we are 'conscious' thinking beings.
 Therefore we should study any phenomena around us in terms of
   the way we consciously experience them. This examination should
   be free of preconceptions and causal ideas.
 Alfred Schutz (1899-1959) who thought that Sociology should look
   at the way individual 'construct' the social world.
In other words…
 The social world is a construction of an actor’s perception and
   subjective interpretations – there is no objective reality; no social
   facts, not rates
 It focuses on meanings employed by the actors of an event and
   how they came to those meanings – in this case, how the decision
   of suicide is come upon by the coroner
Atkinson “Discovering Suicide”
   Official statistics are part of the social world – not
    an objective realist, but a thing that is constructed
    by actors – so Atkinson investigated how actors
    construct this reality
   He discussed with coroners; attendance at
    inquests in 3 towns, observations of coroners at
    work and through records of a coroner
   Brainstorm strengths and weaknesses of these
How do deaths get categorised as suicide?
The “Common sense theory” held by coroners
              Was a suicide note left
             or were there threats of
               suicide beforehand?

        What was the mode of death?
      drowning, hanging, gassing, drugs?

    Location and circumstance…public or private?
        Place where accidents could happen?

                                                       Biography of the deceased
                                                   – inc mental state; social situation,
                                                         history of mental illness,
                                        recent traumatic events (similar to Durkheim’s integration)
   Read the following case study and see which
    “common sense” aspects are shown
   Task – take the criticism sheet and summarise the
    key points
   Extention:
   Which of the theories are more credible? Explain?
   Which is more scientific?
   Which is most valid?
   What other ways can you think of to investigate
    suicide in a sociological way?
What is Realism?
   They accept social structures have some form of influence over our lives –
   Yet they also accept that what we believe to be real will have important
    consequences for our behaviour
   However, unlike positivism, they believe social structures are a product of
    specific social relationships – they are created by powerful groups,
    perusing their own interests
   Unlike interpretivist, they do believe these created structures have an
    objective existence beyond the people who created them and these
    structures cannot be easily changed
   E.g. when you enter into a relationship with someone, you have created
    something that exists beyond your individuality and it influences how others
    relate to you also – which you can’t easily change
   Structures are not permanent and can only be studied as a set of
    relationships in a certain time at a certain place. They can only be studied
    by the effects as by themselves, they are unobservable (e.g. “marriage”)
        Taylor: Beyond Positivism and
            “Persons under trains”
   Agrees statistics are unreliable
   12 months, 32 people died when being hit
    by trains on the London Underground
    without any clue why
   No notes, no witnesses – no certainty
   17 cases = suicide verdict; 5=accidental
    10=open verdict
What made a suicide verdict more
   History of mental illness
   Social failure
   Disgrace
   When they had no good reason to be at the tube
   Witnesses to state of mind – inc friends and family
    (who tend to deny that the person had a reason to
    kill themselves) or those further away – e.g.
    landlady – less likely to deny suicide
   Why might these not always be a suicide?
The methods…
   Attempts to uncover underlying,
    unobservable structures and causal
    processes – based on realist perspectives
   From these, he classified different types of
   Found 4 types of suicide faced by
    individuals – not necessarily linked to
   Do I think about myself or do I think about
   Am I certain I want to die? Am I certain
    about myself?
                                   Ectopic (suicidal
                                     action inner

   Uncertainty        Thanatation (who am     Submissive (I am            Certainty
                      I?)                     dead)
(suicidal action an                                                    (suicidal action
      ordeal)                                                            purposive)
                      Appeal (who are you?)   Sacrifice (I am killed

                                  (Suicide action
                                  (other directed)
   Take the diagram and annotate it using the
    sheets given and the textbooks
   Think of some evaluation points to this
    theory, this method and this approach to
    explaining suicide
Compare and Contrast
   A good form of evaluation – and in this exam, the best way to
    show your skills
   Your task is to find the similarities and differences between
    the theories
   But it’s not always that easy…
   Firstly think of types of similarities and differences you might
   E.g.: type of research method used
   Type of theoretical approach
   Take a few minutes to think of some more categorise…
Did you have any of these?
   Top down or bottom up?
   Defines suicide into types?
   Types are mutually exclusive?
   Similar criticisms?
   Individual or society?
   Any others?
Draw up a grid and compare and
contrast the 4 theories
   Extention:
   Write an argument – using the compare
    and contrast – to address which theory is
    more clear at explaining the relationship
    between suicide and society
   Fill out the sheet for the Phenomenologists
    and the realists
   Sorting task – which categories go with
    which theories?
       Lesson 4
Consolidation on Suicide – and
        synoptic links
   Case studies
   You have 4 theories of suicide
   For each case study, you should place it
    into the theories – which type of suicide
    does it fit into in each case?
   Start to think about the similarities and
    differences between each theory
   To consolidate knowledge of suicide
   To be able to identify synoptic links in
   To be able to compare and contrast the
    different theories
Activity 1 (15mins)
   Read article. Highlight all synoptic links to
    areas we have studied in one colour and in
    another colour, highlight all the links to
    other areas of society
Activity 2 (30 mins)
   Fill in revision materials – try as little as
    possible to use notes to guide you
Activity 3 (20 mins)
   You have many areas of sociology and you need
    to make synoptic links
   Make mind maps of each synoptic link to suicide –
    putting in as much detail as possible as this is
    very important for this exam
   Your links are: religion; global development;
    family; health and illness; wealth and poverty;
    education; power and politics; stratification;
    theory; methods; mass media; work and leisure
Activity 4 (20 mins)
   Essay… create a plan for this and write
    essay for homework
   Referring to two or more areas of
    sociology, evaluate the usefulness of
    studies of suicide to a sociological
    understanding of deviance in society (40)
   Agree or disagree…
Suicide is too personal
 to be studied through
 Suicide statistics
  should include
attempts as well as
 If people want to
kill themselves, we
should just let them
Suicide is a mortal
 People who commit
suicide are extremely
  selfish for putting
 relatives through it
  Most suicide
   attempts are
attention seeking
   Lesson 5
Essay Practice - Suicide
   Timed question – 12 minutes:

   Identify and briefly explain two problems of
    using official statistics in the study of
    suicide (8 marks)

   Swap and peer mark
   To develop essay skills
   To develop short answer skills
   TO know what the exam is asking for
Suicide type questions
   Examine some of the problems of using official statistics in the
    study of Deviance (12 marks)
   Examine the relationship between gender and deviance, making
    use of two or more different areas of sociology (12 marks)
   Examine some of the problems of using qualitative methods and
    sources of data to study deviance (12 marks)
   Examine some of the reasons why there might be correlations
    between suicides and other social facts – referring to two areas of
    sociology (12)
   Assess the usefulness of interpretivist approaches to the study of
    suicide (40)
   Referring to two or more areas of sociology, evaluate the
    usefulness of studies of suicide to a sociological understanding of
    deviance in society (40)
Methods questions – where do I make
other links?
   Examine some of the problems of using official statistics in the
    study of Deviance (12 marks)
   Examine some of the problems of using qualitative methods and
    sources of data to study deviance (12 marks)
   Assess the usefulness of interpretivist approaches to the study of
    suicide (40)

   Take the 2 short answers and brainstorm what you might put into
   Highlight links to other areas of sociology in your brainstorms
   Discuss
   Times writing – 18 minutes per 12 mark questions – off you go
   Swap – peer mark using mark scheme
Other types of short answers
   Examine the relationship between gender and
    deviance, making use of two or more different
    areas of sociology (12 marks)
   Examine some of the reasons why there might be
    correlations between suicides and other social
    facts – referring to two areas of sociology (12)

   Again, just bullet point some ideas – highlighting
    the links
   Discuss
Essay Answers
   Mark scheme says:
Read and Mark the following essay…
   Specimen material – using mark scheme
Brainstorm ideas in pairs for one of
the below essays
   Assess the usefulness of interpretivist
    approaches to the study of suicide (40)
   Referring to two or more areas of
    sociology, evaluate the usefulness of
    studies of suicide to a sociological
    understanding of deviance in society (40)
Look at the plans
   For the essay you didn’t do, add detail to
    the plan, including specific detail of
    research, elaboration of evaluation etc
Timed essay
   Should take 1 hour – but I’m going to give you 30
    minutes so we can focus on skills are well as knowledge
    – try to write half an essay – with as much argument as
    you can put into it within the time span
   Off you go
   Swap and assess the work of the other person
   Highlight on their essay where they have been using
    synoptic links
   Write 3 targets for them to help them improve their work
   Using comments from the peer marking,
    rewrite the first half and complete the whole
    essay for next week.
   Durkheim, Atkinson, Taylor and Douglas
    are in a hot air balloon when it springs a
    leak. One has to jump out or they will all
    die. Who should be the one to jump out and

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