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Durkheim: On Suicide 1897 Review Durkheim’s views on Determinism & Functionalism Durkheim wanted to show that even a deeply personal act of deviance, like suicide, could be explained by reference to social facts. Durkheim’s Methodology 1 n Durkheim believed that people’s social actions were determined by features or variables implicit in the Social Structure. n Healthy or Functional societies were ones in which individuals were neither so regulated that they had no sense of freedom, nor so inadequately regulated that Society dissolved into anarchy. n Functional Societies also ensured that individuals were neither so integrated that they couldn’t function apart from the group, nor so little integrated that they felt no responsibility to others. Durkheim’s Methodology 2 n Durkheim argued that Pre-Industrial societies were characterised by an excess of regulation and integration. They were strictly hierarchical, authoritarian, culturally homogeneous and the status & responsibilities of any individual were rigidly defined by family and kin relationships. n Post-Industrial societies were characterised by a tendency towards inadequate regulation and integration. Urbanisation broke down traditional social controls & produced a diversity of cultures. Social mobility & the nuclear family undermined traditional deference to the needs of kin, dependents and Society. Durkheim’s Methodology 3 n Industrialisation produced a change from extended to nuclear families, in Durkheim’s view. n This was a change that could be observed and quantified. People’s social actions could be demonstrated to have been determined by a major change in the social structure. This was an example of Positivism in action. n Durkheim theorised that industrialisation would have had other effects on human behaviour. n He speculated that a link between changes in the social structure & changes in the pattern of suicides would prove that his methodology worked, because suicide seems so unpredictable. Durkheim’s Methodology 4 n Durkheim studied the quantitative data on European suicides, using the rate per 1000 of population. This avoided false comparisons between different sized countries. n He discovered that the rates for different countries were remarkably constant over time. n He theorised that post-industrial societies had higher rates of suicide than pre-industrial ones, because northern European states had the highest rates of suicide. But what would be the reason? Durkheim’s Methodology 5 n Durkheim used multivariate analysis in an effort to isolate the determinant variables. n He found no evidence of a sociobiological explanation [The higher rates found near the Arctic Circle could be related to SAD] n Religion looked a good bet, given that Catholic countries tended to have lower rates than protestant ones, but Germany’s Catholics had higher rates than Italy’s Catholics. n There was a correlation between industrialisation, weak regulation, weak integration & high suicide rates. Durkheim’s Conclusion 1 n In highly regulated pre-industrial societies suicides were Fatalistic: oppressed and enslaved people lost the will to live. n In highly integrated pre-industrial societies suicides were Altruistic: the individual was expected to sacrifice themselves for the good of the community. n In weakly regulated industrial societies suicides were Anomic: individuals felt under little pressure to conform. n In weakly integrated industrial societies suicides were Egoistic: the individual could see no reason to but their own failure, their own drama. Durkheim & Social Policy n At their best pre-industrial extended families and rural communities provided a sense of belonging, commitment, support and responsibility. n These were in short supply in the new industrial towns, which were thrown up as ‘jerry-built’ slums to feed the factories with wage-slaves. n The result was a breakdown in family values, rising crime, popular revolt, drunken apathy, irreligion, despair & a rise in suicide amongst the most dysfunctional of the emergent underclass. n The solution was to nurture a reformed sense of mutual solidarity in the new towns, between the workers, the bourgeoisie & the forces of control. Gibbs & Martin: 1964 Positivist Critique of Durkheim n Durkheim used figures that were not necessarily reliable. n Catholic countries enforced such a high stigma against suicide that doctors often gave way to pressure from relations to provide a different cause of death. n Some countries collected figures erratically and played down the number of suicides. n Durkheim was using concepts [‘degree of social cohesion or integration’] that, whilst they sounded good, could not actually be defined. Douglas : Social Meaning of Suicide 1967 n An Interpretive analysis of suicide statistics, using qualitative data, suggests that they are not valid. n The stats emerged from the interaction of deviant, doctor, relatives, police, coroner & public. n Individual deviants gave different meanings entirely to the same social action. n Transforming the self : release from the world. n Transforming oneself in the eyes of others n Fellow feeling: an appeal for sympathy n Revenge: an attempt to inflict pain on others. Atkinson: Social Construction Discovering Suicide 1971 1 n Suicide statistics are constructed by the decisions of coroners. n These decisions are not unquestionable ‘social facts’, as Durkheim assumed them to be. n Coroners are much influenced by suicide notes, yet only 30% of cases produce notes [relatives often destroy them]. n Some modes of death are more likely to be accepted as suicide than others. n Suicide is catching: detailed reporting can provoke copy -cat self-harm. Atkinson: Social Construction Discovering Suicide 1971 2 n Some locations are more associated with suicide than others. n Previous mental illness will dispose the coroner towards a verdict of suicide. n The class, educational attainment, age, gender & occupation will influence the coroner. n Coroners learn their trade by signing up to what other coroners have decided are the ‘typical’ features of a suicide. n One can imagine many suicides that were not meant to be and many that failed in the attempt. Taylor: Persons Under Trains: Beyond Positivism & Phenomenology 1990 1 n Taylor studied suspicious deaths on the underground. n 32 cases of death under trains provided no strong clues: neither suicide notes or witnesses. n 17 were definitely declared suicides, 5 as accidental & 10 as ‘open verdicts’. n Taylor accepted that the coroner’s decision were influenced by non-scientific factors: there was a degree of social construction at work. Some decisions were arbitrary, some were dubious. Taylor: Persons Under Trains: Beyond Positivism & Phenomenology 1990 2 n However Taylor believed that it was possible to use the data to explore underlying structures in the causation of suicide. ‘Realist’ science was always based on incomplete and questionable data. n Suicides either involved the influence of other people [Symphysic], or not [Ectopic]. n The individual meaning of a suicide either included a definite intention to end life or not. n Taylor combines objective observation with qualitative interpretation of individual meaning. Taylor: Persons Under Trains: Beyond Positivism & Phenomenology 1990 3 n Taylor sees four categories: n Submissive Suicides: An ectopic or inner directed suicide, where the person is certain they are going to kill themselves. n Thanation: An ectopic suicide, where the person is not certain they want to die, but gambles, daring fate or God to intervene. n Sacrifice: A symphysic or other directed suicide, where the person is certain they must die for the good of others. n Appeal: A symphysic suicide, where the personj is not certain they want to die, feels under pressure from others & appeals for sympathy.
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