Durkheim On Suicide 1897 Review Durkheim's views on

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					Durkheim: On Suicide
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
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
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
    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
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
 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
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
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
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
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
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
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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