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May 16, 2018 / C H Thompson

Douglas and suicide: interpretivist methods revision notes and evaluation

Interpretivists focus on the meanings behind the act of suicide. Douglas (1967) wanted to interpret how individuals who commit suicide define and give meaning to their act. He said the following needs to be carried out in order to discover those meanings:

  • Analysis of suicide notes
  • Examination of diaries
  • Interviews with those who knew the victim
  • Analysis of events leading to the suicide
  • Building up a biography of the victim

In order to classify suicide into types, these must be done. He argues that Durkheim’s approach of classifying suicide into types may have either little or nothing to do with the meanings that victims give to their actions.

The next step is to look for patterns of meaning. This then makes it possible to classify into different types. Douglas said that the following are the most common types of suicide:

  • Revenge suicide -> this is suicide that has been carried out as an act against those who have wronged the individual
  • Transformation of the self -> suicide carried out as a form of self-punishment
  • Transformation of the soul -> this is suicide carried out as an escape
  • Sympathy suicide -> suicide carried out as a ‘cry for help’ when all else has failed

These then need to be linked with the wider beliefs of the culture.

Evaluation of Douglas and suicide

Douglas criticises Durkheim for accepting the reliability and validity of the official statistics that he used as part of his research, for example friends and family might do their best to conceal a death as suicide, as it was seen as a morally wrong act.

(+) Douglas offers an alternative view that is defined and given meaning to by the victim, and he recognises that suicide statistics are socially constructed.

(-) Douglas didn’t carry out any of his own research, and so his study is purely theoretical.

(-) Taylor argues that there is a contradiction in Douglas’ work as at times he says it’s possible for the researcher to discover whether death really was suicide, and at other times he says that suicide is nothing more than the meanings society gives it.

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