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Durkheim on Suicide. How do Sociologists Study Problems? . Scientific Method . This involves… isolating the problem forming a hypothesis building a research design collecting the data analyzing the data collected making generalizations . Isolate the Problem.

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durkheim on suicide

Durkheim on Suicide

How do Sociologists Study Problems?

scientific method
Scientific Method

This involves…

  • isolating the problem
  • forming a hypothesis
  • building a research design
  • collecting the data
  • analyzing the data collected
  • making generalizations
isolate the problem
Isolate the Problem
  • In terms of the scientific method a problem refers to any question for which we seek an answer.
  • It is simply some matter about which we want to know the answer.
  • Sociologists usually choose to research problems that are related to their areas of interest and their particular specialty in the field of sociology.
develop a hypothesis
Develop a Hypothesis
  • A hypothesis is a tentative assumption, an untested generalization.
  • The hypothesis is essential because it sets the stage for the research and gives it direction.
  • A hypothesis always states a relationship between two or more situations, events, or factors.
  • The purpose of the research is to test the hypothesis to see if this statement of the relationship is accurate.
build a research design
Build a Research Design
  • A research designis a set of directions for research.
  • To set up a research design, the sociologist must determine the variables and how they will be measured.
  • The sociologist must then decide what sample will be used.
  • Finally, the sociologist must determine what tools and techniques to use in collecting the data.
collect the data
Collect the Data
  • The collecting process must be done carefully to avoid error.
  • If the data is inaccurate, the results will be useless.
data analysis
Data Analysis
  • On the basis of the data, the sociologist decides whether to accept or reject the hypothesis.
make generalizations
Make Generalizations
  • What can we say about the population on the basis of the sample actually investigated?
  • What conclusions can we draw about the whole on the basis of examining a part?
A classic example of sociological research is Emile Durkheim's study of suicide, published by the French sociologist in 1897. Let's examine just what Durkheim did, how he did it, and what he concluded.
  • But first, a little about Durkheim…
emile durkheim 1859 1917
Emile Durkheim (1859-1917)
  • Sought to use sociology to explain the many social problems plaguing Victorian-era industrialized Europe.
  • Believed that the application of scientific methods could result in a more perfect society.
  • Considered to be the founder of the functionalist paradigm of sociology.
isolating the problem suicide
Isolating the Problem - Suicide
  • In Durkheim's France, as in societies today, the question of suicide was one of great popular concern.
  • It raises not only specific questions for the relatives and friends of the victims, but also larger questions of causation.
Why do people commit suicide?
  • Whydon'tsome people do it?
  • Why does the rate of suicide vary from place to place?
Durkheim noted that suicide rates differed, depending on the society and the conditions.
  • He felt that differences in the rates of suicides suggested that more than indi­vidual factors were operating.
  • He thought that suicide must reflect changes in social or environmental circumstances. The problem was to discover the nature of these circumstances and their causes.
the hypothesis
The Hypothesis
  • Durkheim first explored the current explanations for suicide. One explanation was that suicide resulted from individual psychological conditions.
  • Another explanation assigned the cause of suicide to factors in the natural environment, such as the time of year, the climate, or the temperature.
After examining case histories and statistical records, however, Durkheim concluded that such explanations were not adequate.
  • In investigating individual psychological conditions, he found that although many of the people who committed suicide were mentally ill, many others were not.
  • No one type of mental illness was always associated with suicide.
  • Neither could he find a clear relationship between alcoholic consumption, age, race, or gender and the suicide rate.
Similarly, such forces as seasonal variation and climate did not cause suicide.
  • For example, if warm weather increased the number of social interactions, and the suicide rate was affected, the important factor was the increased social interactions and not the warmer weather.
Durkheim arrived at his hypothesis that the basic causes of suicide were social in nature.
  • It seemed to him that the main determinants of suicide were such social factors as religion, marital status, and the pace of social change.
  • He therefore hypothesized that the degree of social attachment, or the lack of it, explained the variations in the suicide rate.
the research design
The Research Design
  • To test his hypothesis, Durkheim reasoned that he would need statistics on the number of suicides in given areas at given times.
  • To be able to talk about the rate of suicide, he would also need accurate figures for the total population of these areas.
He would also need all these statistics from a variety of places.
  • Then he could make comparisons between the suicide rate and different social conditions.
  • He found that most of the European countries, as well as the United States, had relatively accurate statistics on the number of suicides, who committed them, and the total population. All Durkheim had to do was to get at these already existing sources of information.
By comparing the suicide rates of Protestants and Catholics, of urban and rural areas, and so on, Durkheim could test his hypothesis.
  • He could find out if the degree of social attachment determined the rate of suicide, and if suicide was, therefore, a social phenomenon.
data analysis1
Data Analysis
  • What Durkheim found was that the data he collected did seem to fit a pattern, and that this pattern confirmed his hypothesis.
  • He found, for example, that the suicide rates were higher among Protestants than among Catholics.
  • This was so even when he allowed for other differences in the social climate that may have affected the suicide rate.
Similarly, taking other factors into account, he found that single people had higher suicide rates than married ones.
  • Married but childless people had higher suicide rates than people with children.
  • City dwellers had higher suicide rates than people living in rural areas.
  • Men had higher suicide rates than women.
  • Soldiers had a higher suicide rate than civilians.
the generalizations and conclusions
The Generalizations and Conclusions
  • From his evidence, Durkheim concluded that the suicide rate was determined by the degree of social attachment.
  • He discovered, however, that the relationship was a complex one.
  • Suicide seemed to result from both unusually high levels and unusually low levels of social attachment.
the 3 types of suicide
The 3 Types of Suicide
  • From his findings, he was able to generalize that there were three basic types of suicide: altruistic, egoistic, and anomic.
altruistic suicide
Altruistic Suicide
  • Altruistic suicideoccurs when the degree of attachment of the individual to the society is very great.
  • It is not always defined by the society as suicide.
  • This would be the case with soldiers who volunteer for a dangerous mission, in which they are likely to lose their lives, out of zeal for and devotion to their country.
egoistic suicide
Egoistic Suicide
  • Egoistic suicide, on the other hand, results from a lack of attachment of the individual to the society.
  • The less integrated into society individuals are, and the more they must depend on their own egos or selves, the more likely they are to commit suicide.
He found Protestants, who make more theological decisions on their own than Catholics and are therefore less attached to their society, have a higher suicide rate than Catholics.
  • In the same manner, single people, city dwellers, and men have higher suicide rates than married people, rural people, and women. They tend to have fewer attachments and responsibilities, more social freedom, and more dependence on their own egos.
anomic suicide
Anomic Suicide
  • Anomic suicide, like egoistic suicidal occurs because the individual is forced to make decisions without any strong social attachments. However, in anomic suicide the individual is unattached because the whole society is undergoing rapid change and the old rules no longer seem to apply.
  • Anomic suicide occurs during periods of uncertainty, such as times of crisis, revolution, or economic depression.