Interpretivists such as Douglas prefer to look at the meaning behind suicide; and argues that sociological analysis of the meaning of suicide rather than the causes of suicide is the key to understanding. He found three different types of suicide: Suicide as reunion - release from cares/pressures, suicide as atonement - transforming oneself for others and suicide as revenge - most increased from in 20th century. He argued that we should study suicide through the use of notes, biographies, psychiatrist notes and wills. This presents as a strength because it can help to lower the problems of interpretation of the coroners and other influences that have been involved. However the problem with this is that there isn’t always a will available and some deaths can be accidental. For example, Marilyn Monroe who overdosed, but nobody knows for definite whether or not it was a suicide, and interpretivists ignore the fact, that coroners are trained to look for signs and don’t just rely on the use of their common sense. Another criticism of Douglas’ is that he never done any of his own research, which is a weakness because this shows the only evidence he has is that of other sociologists, which itself is based on other works.
Atkinson et al (1978), performed some primary research using four English coroners and five Danish coroners and were told to decide of 40 cases and found that the Danish coroners were much more likely to give the verdict of suicide than the English coroners because in Denmark the verdict is given if there is no other evidence, and on the balance of probabilities, a suicide is more likely, and this shows how weak the positivist method is because it disproves the claim that suicide can be studied scientifically as social facts when really, each country has different interpretations to suicide. Atkinson’s theory has different strengths; he had taken his study further than Douglas and had an interactionist approach. The weakness of Atkinson and his study is that it was very small, using only 11 people in his study and the sample was not large enough to cover a wide range of societies as is only covered Denmark and England.
Taylor (1982, 1989, 1990) was unique and combined positivism and interpretivism and came up with realism and he criticised Douglas saying that his dependence on interpreting the research is no different to relying on official statistics which relies on the interpretation of coroners. Taylor found four different types of suicide: Submissive Suicide – The person is certain about life and sees themselves as already dead, thanatation Suicide – The person is uncertain about themselves, the suicide attempt is a gamble sacrifice Suicide – Certain that others have made their life unbearable, appeal Suicide – Results from the suicidal person feeling uncertainty over the attitudes of others towards them. His own study of 12 months found 32 cases of people throwing themselves under a train and found that 32 were suicide, 5 were accidental and 10 were open verdicts. A strength of Taylor’s theory is that he combines both approaches to suicide and uses a mix of different methods, involving scientific and interpretive methods, which improved the validity of the results. However, reliability is an issue because there are very little realist approaches to suicide and interpretation is still different, even if combined with scientific methods. Also Taylor uses cases from people under trains which doesn’t show a broad scale of the way people were feeling which can often determine how they commit suicide, which then gives the meaning of the suicide.
Overall, interpretivist approaches are more useful in studying suicide because today there are many different societies and can adapt to the meaning of suicide as opposed to positivist approaches to suicide that struggles to adapt to the world we live in today, through the use of scientific methods to discover social facts that, over time can change.