Sociologists have explained the suicide phenomena in different ways. For example, while positivists sought to achieve a scientific explanation of suicide, interpretivists sought to demolish it by focusing on the meaning of suicide to those involved and the meanings they attach to it.
Durkheim used the positivists approach to explain the suicide phenomena. According to him, our behaviours are caused by social facts; norms and values that exercise a social constraint which surpasses an individual. He argues that suicide is a social fact. Using quantitative data from official statistics, Durkheim analysed the suicide rates for various European countries and noted four regular patterns. The ...view middle of the document...
As a result, because the study lacked reliability, it becomes difficult to conclude that suicide is caused by social facts as Durkheim had suggested.
Douglas (1967) has also criticised Durkheim’s suicide study for ignoring the meanings of the act for those who kill themselves and for assuming that suicide has a fixed or constant meaning. He argues that the meanings of suicide can vary between cultures and the motives and meanings must be understood within their own social and cultural context. This means that Durkheim’s attempts to compare rates across cultures are faced with problems.
Douglas also criticises Durkheim for aiming to categorize suicide in terms of their social causes. He argues that death should be classified according to its actual meaning and to do this, qualitative methods should be used to analyse the possible causes of death. That way, we can build up a classification of suicide meanings.
As Douglas takes the interpretivist approach, the interpretivist explanations of suicide aim to study suicide in a non-scientific manner unlike the positivist explanations. They reject using statistics to look at why people commit suicide and prefer to try and understand the meanings behind why they would commit suicide which they believe isn’t coherent through statistics.
According to Douglas, the decision to classify death as a suicide is taken by a coroner, and so the coroner’s verdict is based on interpretation. Nevertheless, the coroner’s decision could be subjective so therefore we cannot exactly argue that the coroner’s decision is fully accurate. He suggested that there are different types of suicide based on the meaning and reason for the death. For example, in some societies, Eskimos were expected to kill themselves in times of food shortages.
Atkinson (1978) takes a different approach as he rejects the idea of coroners being able to objectively classify suicides because the facts are social constructions therefore criticizing the interpretivists approach. Although he accepts Douglas’ point that official statistics simply reflect the constructs or labels coroners give to deaths, he rejects the view that we cannot get behind these statistics and uncover the real rates or meaning of suicide. All we can study is how people make sense of their world which means studying how the living comes to classify a death as a suicide. He focuses on how coroners classify death and suggests that qualitative methods such as informal interviews and observations might be...