A Study in Sociology Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 April 2017

A Study in Sociology

Suicide always fascinated academic researches for a long time however it is has been an area of study limited to the field of psychology. Sociology is a relatively new field of social sciences. It started looking into suicide, not just as a personal act, but as a social action which is not entirely divorced from social forces. This paper discusses pertinent studies on the phenomenon of suicide and seeks to present literatures concerning this act. Moreover, differing ideas and interpretations on suicide are presented to carefully elaborate different perspectives on the subject matter.

A Study in Sociology Arguably the first person to connect suicide to the study of sociology is sociologist Emile Durkheim. He presented that although suicide is a personal choice of the individual, the act is not separated from the context of a society. He looked into pre-existing records and analyzed suicide trends in different societies. Based on these suicide trends, there are four classifications of suicide: 1) Egoistic; 2) Altruistic; 3) Anomic and; 4) Fatalistic. Social cohesion plays a vital role in Durkheim’s theories on suicide.

Egoistic suicide occurs when a person has a relatively low degree of integration into a society. On the other hand, a high degree of integration into a society can also result in suicides that are meant for a higher cause within a society. He also argued that changes in social order and the individual’s perception towards social change would explain anomic suicides. The phenomenon of fatalism takes place in extreme social contexts, where a person would decide on killing himself rather than suffering dire social conditions (Durkheim, 1951). Self and Society

From an object of study limited to psychology, suicide became a subject of sociology. Durkheim’s research proved that the traditional perspective that view the subject matter as a psychological behavior and entirely individualistic in nature is a constricted framework when looking into suicide. This implies that social structures, social forces as well as social conflicts and changes are intervening factors in a suicide phenomenon. C. Wright Mills (2000) supported that one cannot separate behaviors and actions of an individual from the larger social context.

He wrote that “the personal troubles of the milieu are connected to the public issues of social structure. ” The individual committing suicide must therefore be located in his social as well as historical contexts. Current Trends on Suicide Studies After Mills and Durkheim laid the foundations of suicide as a sociological subject, numerous studies concerning suicide have been conducted in both psychology and sociology. Currently, suicide studies are interconnected with other factors such as gender, poverty, small arms, mental disorders and even medicine.

It is now linked to modernity (Baudelot and Establet, 2008), attitudes and experiences of oncology patients (Emanuel, Fairclough, Daniels & Clarridge, 1996), a demographic-specific trend such as adolescents (Brent, et. al. , 1988), cultural forces (West, 2005), economic conditions (Ruhm, 2000), as well as access to weapons (Brent, et. al. 1991). Suicide and Modernity Baudelot and Establet (2008) worked with Durkheim’s premises in their study of suicide.

They stated that “The link between suicide, affluence and individualism is more complex—suicide rates do reflect broad social trends but they are also influenced by the structural position and lived experience of small social groups. The notion of social well-being is demonstrated to be a key factor in changes in suicide rates. ” While sociology itself cannot accurately predict a suicide case, the collective gathering of these cases provides a fertile ground for sociological interpretations. Modernity is a historical as well as social era where social changes occur and these cases of suicide are descriptive of their milieu.

Suicide, seen as such in the context of modernity, is a social fact. It describes the changes that occurred during the time of modernity. Societies that are rigid in its goals during the time of modernity are those that adamantly pursued modernization. It is in this context that suicide rates are known to be higher in the Communist Bloc, China and India (Baudelot and Establet, 2008). Economics and Suicide While both affluent and starving groups of individuals commit suicide, the role of economics cannot be downplayed in the study of suicide.

On the macro-economic level, the period of modernity prominently features suicide trends in a time where economies were vibrant and booming. On the other hand, a stagnating economy, such as in a recession, also has an effect on suicide. Ruhm (2000) argues that “unemployment is negatively correlated to mortality and that unemployment is positively correlated to suicide. ” In Japan, suicide is seen in a cultural context. Since individuals in the Japanese society are strongly connected to their social, political and cultural spheres, there is tendency for the push and pull of altruistic-egoistic suicide to occur.

This is seen when the rule of law in Japanese society permeates the personal sphere such that debts and divorces are major factors affecting suicide (West, 2005). Suicide and Norms Sociology also attempted to explain suicide in a broader sense—by zooming out of the individual and focusing on social factors that affect the phenomenon. Psychology argues that those committing suicide are psychologically ill or that the individuals committing them are inept in their coping mechanisms. While suicide might seem irrational, there are rational premises that are least likely explored.

Societies that are relatively more tolerant of suicide, as well as the individual’s cognitive ability to rationalize the act are also extraordinary factors contributing to suicide trends. Rendering rational suicide normative in a society creates the positive feedback mechanism necessary for a rational suicide to occur. This type of suicide is also surprisingly limited to a specific demographic, namely the educated and successful. Rationality of Suicide One of the fundamental question relating suicide and society lies in the rationality of the act.

Is the act ‘rational’ based only on the perceptions and actions of the individual, thereby rendering the act an exclusive study within psychology? Or is this rationality of the act itself being defined not only in terms of the individual’s values but a rationality that is predetermined by the values and norms of a society? Although there are many reasons for suicide, there are factors that least likely determine suicidal trends, but are potent social forces (i. e. education, family, religion) that must be considered.

Suicide occurs for a number of reasons such as depression, substance abuse, shame, avoiding pain, financial difficulties or other undesirable fates. ” Defying the commonplace definition is the concept of rational suicide. Rational suicide is “ending one’s life out of a conviction that one has lived long enough, that the likely future holds more pain than joy” (Lerner, 2004). Surprisingly, rationality of a suicide act Keown (1995) showed that there is prime value placed on the moral intention behind the act of death itself.

This applies not just in euthanasia but also in rational suicide. What are the intentions behind the suicide? Is the decision independent of life’s problems that can be solved? Is it free from outside pressure from a belief system, mores or culture itself? This is the litmus test of the rationality or irrationality of suicides. Sociological and psychological studies attempted to look into the duality of forces working on suicides—individual and social. It is arguably psycho-social factors that are deterministic of the suicide trends across societies.

Social institutions, many sociological studies posit, are playing a huge role in the nature and type of suicides in a given society. Stack and Kposowa (2008) concludes that: “National suicide rates are predictive of individual-level suicide acceptability. However, the main predictors of suicide acceptability included a measure from social learning theory, religiosity, and a neglected measure of control theory, life satisfaction. ” While the act of committing suicide is a very individualistic act, there are factors to be considered that are social forces with repercussions and influences on individual action.

The act of suicide presents how the personal milieu is linked to the larger issues within the social institutions.


Baudelot C. and Establet R. (2008) Suicide: The Hidden Side of Modernity. John Wiley Publications. Brent, D. A. , Perper, J. A. , Goldstein, C. E. , Kolko, D. J. , Allan, M. J. , Allman, C. J. , and Zelenak, J. P. (1988) Risk factors for adolescent suicide. A comparison of adolescent suicide victims with suicidal inpatients. Archives of General Psychiatry. Vol. 45, No. 6, June 1988.

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