Assess the usefulness of different sociological approaches to suicide

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Bethany Headley
Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of different sociological approaches to suicide (21marks)

Item A shows that there have been many studies conducted on suicide and the motives behind it. There are two main perspectives to assess when considering the usefulness of the approaches to suicide, Positivists such as Durkheim believe that suicide can be explained through official statistics and state there are distinct reasons for every suicide. Whereas, Interpretivists such as Atkinson and Douglas state that we can find the reason for suicide through qualitative studies and individual motives. Emile Durkheim elaborated upon another French Positivist, Comte in his belief that behind each individual suicide is the influence of wider social issues rather than personal vulnerabilities. After an in depth cross cultural study of suicide rates using official statistics such as relationship status, he noted particular correlations such as more suicides in single people opposed to those who were married and a higher suicide rate in Protestant countries than Catholic countries. From his study he identified two main social factors that determined suicide, one as integration into society, meaning the extent to which an individual feels a sense of belonging to a group and obligation to its members and the other as regulation, the extent to which an individual’s actions and desires are kept in check by society’s norms and values. Elaborating upon this, he argues suicide results from either too much or too little social integration or regulation. Egoistic suicide is caused by too little social integration, he suggests that is the most common type of suicide in modern society, caused by excessive individualism and lack of social ties and obligations to others which explains the lower rate among Catholics than among Protestants. Both religions condemn suicide but Protestants have more individual freedom in what to believe and how to express their faith whereas Catholics are more tightly integrated by shared beliefs and collective rituals. In modern society, a recent example of Fatalistic suicide can be seen in the case of Charlotte Coursier, a Cambridge philosophy student who committed suicide after suffering harassment from a lecturer, with nobody else to turn to following a break-up she took her own life. Altruistic suicide is the opposite of egoistic suicide and is caused by too much social integration, it occurs when the individual has little value and where the group’s interests override those of the individual. Suicide here is obligatory self-sacrifice for the good of the group rather then something freely chosen since the individual feels it their duty to die. Anomic suicide is caused by too little moral regulation, it occurs when society’s values are made obsolete with rapid social change, creating uncertainty in individuals as to what society expects of them, for example the depression of the 1930s produced anomic suicides. Fatalistic suicide is the opposite of anomic suicide and is caused by too much moral regulation, this suicide happens when society regulates the individual completely, it was most common amongst slaves. Maurice Halbwachs supported Durheim’s positivist approach but added to his theory. Halbwachs argued differences between urban and rural residence were the main reasons for variations in suicide rates. He found higher rates among people living alone in urban locations where they were subject to isolation. However, Sainsbury found suicide in London boroughs were highest where the levels of social disorganisation were highest. Durkheim’s study has been criticised for using unreliable statistics in the form of retrospective data as medical knowledge was limited in the 19th century and autopsies were rare. Similarly, most countries lacked the sophisticated modern administrative system needed to collect and complete reliable statistics on a national level. As a result,...
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