Evaluate Durkheim’s Theory Of Suicide

There are many different sociologists that criticises Durkheim’s research into suicide. Some sociologist focus on the flaws of statistical data that may affect the validity of Durkheim’s research whereas others have opposing arguments of their own. The first sociologist that crises Durkheim is Taylor. Taylor takes the interactionist approach to the idea of suicide and created his own theory on the types of suicide. Taylors first types of suicide is called Submissive suicide.

Submissive suicide is carried out by a person who is certain their life is over, for example an individual with a terminal illness, chooses to commit suicide and end their suffering. The second type is called Thamation and this is carried out by an individual who is unsure whether they want to lives so therefore they take a gamble with their life. This could either result in more suicide attempt or a re-evaluation of their life if they survive.

Taylor describes each of these types of suicide as Ectopic whereas the last two are called Symphysis. The first type of suicide is called sacrifice suicide in which the victim blames their peer for being the cause of their negative feelings and is usually left in the form of a suicide note or letter. The last type is explained as an appeal suicide in which is described as being a cry from help when a person is uncertain of what to think of themselves and desperation is at its strongest.

Taylor criticizes Durkheim’s approach in the way that he rejects the idea that all suicide attempts were meant to cause death and he notes that in some cases victims knew that their actions were not going to cure them or necessarily end with the individual dying. He places great emphasis on the communication that a victim of suicide is trying to offer unlike durkheim that only focuses on the social actions prior to the suicide taking place.

Another way in which Durkheim’s explanation of suicide is criticised is by a Sociology called Douglas. Durkheim states that an individual is more likely to commit suicide if they are not as integrated within a group. Douglas opposes this and states that it is the coroners who decide whether or not an individual’s death is classified as suicide. He says that individual that comes from integrated family’s death is less likely to be categorized as suicide because the family can say it was an accidental death.

Corner may be more influenced by an individual’s family if they are willing to “fight” for them. This may happen due to social stigma of society and a lot of religious outlook frown upon suicide which may affect family and they would want to avoid that. Douglas challenges durkheim’s idea of suicide rate and states that the corners and families inputs are a lot more stronger. Not only this but Atkinson criticises Durkheim’s work by saying that the definition of suicide isn’t just as simple and the death itself.

Atkinson conducted interviews and observations with coroners and discovered that situational factors had massive implications of the categorized death of suicide. Factors such as the location, circumstances of death, mode of death, life history and whether a suicide note was left can manipulate the coroner’s decision. He argued that suicide was an interpretation of the situation present, however the definition of suicide is “the act of deliberately killing oneself”.

If an individual had intentions to kill themselves that is suicide. However atkinson still argues that durkheim fails to acknowledge suicide as a social construct. Also argued that official statistics were reflections from the coroner so therefore were not 100% true. Not every sociologist completely disagrees with Durkheim’s views and we can see this by the explanation that is proposed by functionalist sociologist Halbwachs.

His research mainly supports the ideas that Durkheim presented on suicide however he disagrees with the focus on religious aspects and significance to suicide and replaces it with the difference of rates between Urban and Rural area. With Halbwachs research he found that suicide rates were higher in urban area more significantly within the holidays. However a major criticism of this research is that it lacks historical validity as it was conducted in the 1930’s whereas now suicide rates are actually higher in rural areas than in urban.

There are many reasons as to why this is the case, whether it is due to technology or the lack of integration, due to rural areas not being as heavily population but most importantly the fact that a child who is depressed in a rural area may struggle to find the right treatment than a child in a urban area therefore suicide would be seen as the only way out. Despite this flaw the argument still stands that Halbwach criticises Durkheim’s work on the terms it is too heavily focussed on religious values.

In terms of statistical data Atkinson heavily criticizes Durkheim’s work by highlighting faults in the way in which Durkheim categorised death as a suicide. Atkinson states that’s the way in which a death is said to be suicide may not be factual all the time and it may just be an interpretation of the scene. Atkinson investigated this by interviewing coroners who were observing the scenes of a suspected suicide. He found that coroner places great emphasis on factors like location and circumstance of death, life history and whether a suicide note was left played great manipulation on the categorisation of death.

Within the UK a corner can draw five possible verdicts. These are death by natural causes, death by misadventure, homicide, suicide or lastly open verdict which is used when a coroner cannot draw a specific conclusion to the death of an individual. The open verdict can cause the most amount of misinterpretation of information that may put a death in the wrong category therefore affecting the suicide rate statistics. Atkinson therefore criticizes Durkheim’s work altogether by stating that his work may not be fully valid due to the fact that the deaths he based his information on may not be suicides at all.