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Assess the usefulness of interpretive approaches to the study of suicide.

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Introduction

Assess the usefulness of interpretive approaches to the study of suicide. Until the 1960s, suicide was relatively understudied by sociologists. This was largely because Emile Durkheim's "Le Suicide" (1897) study had dominated this area of sociology and it was believed, by many at least, that there was little more to study and find out about suicide. More recently, however, there have been interpretive approaches to the study of suicide. Interpretive approaches seek to explore the way in which society is constructed through people's interactions, and therefore, interpretive approaches to suicide have challenged and produced some greatly different explanations to Durkheim's positivistic approach. Despite interpretive approaches to suicide providing a new and, in the eyes of some, more valid and thorough explanation of suicide to Durkheim's, arguably, they are also flawed. Jacobs' (1967) analysis of suicide notes provides one example of an interpretive approach to the study of suicide. Jacobs studied 112 suicide notes written by both young and old people in Los Angeles. ...read more.

Middle

This therefore suggests that interpretive methods may be of much more value when studying suicide. The notion of examining the meanings of actions and behavior in society is a common feature of all interpretive approaches in sociology, and for Douglas' approach to the study of suicide, it was no different. Douglas (1967) looked at categorizing suicides according to their social meanings because the causes and responses to suicide vary from society to society. He claimed that there are four main types of suicide: "transforming the self", "transforming oneself for others", "achieving fellow feeling" and "gaining revenge". These four different types of suicide therefore prove that the only thing that acts of suicide have in common is death. Douglas' analysis of suicide therefore shows how interpretive approaches can provide a fresh outlook on an area of sociology which has traditionally been left explained by Durkheim's theory linked to social integration. ...read more.

Conclusion

Whether or not interpretive approaches to the study of suicide can be classified as useful, depends entirely upon whether or not interpretive approaches in sociology are regarded as a suitable way of explaining human behavior in general. In other words, interpretive sociologists would claim that suicide is a highly personal act, and that anyone's motives for wanting to commit suicide are likely to be very intricate and detailed, and therefore, can only be discovered by examining personal documents like suicide notes. Positivists, however, would claim - just like they do in all areas of sociology - that a scientific approach should be adopted when examining the causes of suicide. Consequently, they would reject interpretive approaches on the grounds of them lacking objectivity and reliability. But the question still remains as to whether or not positivistic approaches are should be used in an area like the study of suicide. Although positivist approaches have much value in other areas of sociology, many claim that for this area in particular interpretive methods should be used. ...read more.

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