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Durkheim and Suicide

The Sociology of Suicide


Sociology has tended to see criminality as something more than a characteristic of the
individual, this is because sociology has stressed the importance of social factors as
causes of crime. This perspective originated from the work of Comte who said society
shapes individual psychology – this is known as sociological positivism. The central
areas of positivism are scientific method, determinism and consensus.

This approach is at odds with the then dominant notion of classical free will, as social
organisation might be involved in creating problems in society like crime. It was
Durkheim’s study of suicide that fused the individualistic decision to take one’s own life
with social and economic conditions. Rates of suicide he found rose not only in times of
severe economic depression but in times of prosperity.

Durkheim termed this social state as one of ANOMIE, in which normal methods of social
control are disrupted and people’s normal expectations become disrupted. From this
suicide moves from being an individual act to a social act. Durkheim applied this
approach to understanding crime as also being a social act – or to use his term correctly
crime is a ‘social fact’ – a feature of societies not individuals. And as crime is evident in
all societies, he regarded crime as a normal feature of society with a positive function.

In this way crime is a universal and normal part of any society, as crime merely illustrates
positive deviation within a society without such deviation Durkheim argues societies
would stagnate.

Durkheim’s study of suicide:

Briefly identify and explain the four key terms used by Durkheim to explain suicide rates
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Durkheim and Suicide

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Durkheim identified four types of suicide. Which one would you use to explain the
behaviour of a suicide bomber and why?
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Durkheim and Suicide

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Briefly, identify the key areas of an interpretivist position on suicide.
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Briefly, identify the key areas of Realist approaches to suicide.


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Durkheim and Suicide

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