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

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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. By reading the suicide notes of people who had either attempted suicide or actually committed suicide, he found that very often the note-writers put forward sensible and rational arguments for wanting to commit suicide. Jacobs’ study therefore shows that suicide notes can provide a means of finding out peoples’ motives for wanting to commit suicide. When ones’ motives are found out, it is then possible to categorise different types of suicide (which is what he did).

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Whilst Durkheim, too, categorized types of suicide, he failed to prove that people actually commit suicide for the reasons he gave after not using qualitative data like Jacobs did. Instead, Durkheim relied on coroners’ statistics which are essentially just socially constructed in various ways depending on what the coroner classed as suicide. Interpretive approaches to suicide therefore have the obvious advantage that they do not rely on statistics as a source of evidence which are subject to bias and inaccuracies. This therefore suggests that interpretive methods may be of much more value when studying suicide.

The notion ...

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