Using Item A and elsewhere, assess different sociological explanations of suicide

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Sunday, 20 April 2014        Liam Curran        Year 13

  1. Using Item A and elsewhere, assess different sociological explanations of suicide

Durkheim was the first to study the social causes, or facts that he believed led to suicide, and these social facts are what shape humans’ behaviour and are external to the individual. He did recognise that some were naturally predisposed to committing suicide, but he argue that it was largely a social problem. However, many interpretevists contest Durkheim’s findings, arguing that the meaning needs to be investigated to find the causes of a suicide rather than a positivist approach, relying on scientific methods.

Durkheim came up with his own typology of suicide, Egoistic, anomic, fatalistic and altruistic. Egoistic is where there is too little social integration, and is the most common type of suicide, because it happens when there is very little social cohesion among society’s members, and has been used to explain why the rates of suicide are lower among Catholics than protestants, because there are stricter rules in Catholicism meaning there are solid boundaries to which people adhere too and can stay close, whereas Protestantism is a lot more lenient with its rules meaning there is little cohesion among members where beliefs differ. Altruistic suicide is where there is too much social integration, meaning there is too much social cohesion and the welfare of the group is more important than the welfare of the individual, and is called sacrificial suicide also, because it isn’t about the individual and their thoughts, but through their death, the group can survive and an example of this would be Japanese kamikaze pilots who would fly into war ships in world war 2. Anomic suicide is where there is little moral regulation which occurs when society undergoes rapid change, like in the 1930’s America where the massive economic depression caused many suicides, and likewise in economic booms the same happens because the desire to succeed the goals are rising faster than the means to attain the goal.  Fatalistic suicide is the opposite, where there is too much moral regulation, and where the individual believes they are too controlled by the system and can’t find a way out, and this type of suicide is most common amongst prisoners and slaves. The difference between modern societies and pre modern societies is that in modern ones, there is very little social integration because society changes so fast, and this leads to both egoistic and anomic suicides because there is little social cohesion and therefore a state of normlessness. In pre modern societies, there is a high number of altruistic suicides and fatalistic suicides, because rules were more rigidly enforced and there was a lot of social cohesion, because everyone was dependent upon each other for support which can explain the ancient tradition in Hinduism of the rite of sati, which required women to throw themselves on their deceased husbands funeral pyre. Others who agree with Durkheim such as Sainsbury, found that there were patterns of suicide in the London borough where there was a lot of social disorganisation, from divorce and illegitimacy. Showing that there are patterns of suicide which can be studied scientifically with social underlying causes and in this example, shows there is a correlation between anomic suicides and the rate of divorce and illegitimate births.

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Later positivist approaches from Gibbs and Martin, have criticised Durkheim’s typology, because integration is hard to define and therefore hard to conceptualise and measure, and therefore sought to define it as a situation where there are stable and long lasting relationships, which happens when there is status integration, for example when a person’s educational attainment level are compatible with their occupation, and they predict that in societies where there is little status integration, there will be a higher rate of suicide. Durkheim’s method has also since been criticised because when Durkheim was studying suicide rates, there wasn’t the technology to ...

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