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Using multi-modal qualitative data as evidence Jonathan Scourfield Ben Fincham Susanne Langer
The development of social research on suicide • Durkheim and the social context of an ostensibly individual act. Suicide rates and social integration • Douglas – a Weberian emphasis on subjective meanings to social actors • Atkinson – the coroner’s construction of a suicide case. Does not address suicide prevention • Mainstream contemporary suicidology – dominated by quantitative methodology • Lots of talk about suicide in young men, but relatively little attention to diversity or to power relations (Scourfield, 2005)
A qualitative sociological autopsy study of individual suicides • The tradition of psychological autopsy studies • The study of individual suicides is generally seen as irredeemably psychological • The term ‘social autopsy’ used by Klinenberg to mean the macro-level social and political context (of a disaster) • Can there be a sociology of individual suicides? • The study of both what we know about suicidal lives and the knowledge itself • Evidence for suicide prevention that goes beyond counting risk factors
Multi-modal data on individual suicides (Work in progress) • Coroners’ case files • Interviews with relatives, friends and professionals • Media accounts
Diverse data in case files • Forms filled out by coroner • Scribbles on file wallets • Police statements from witnesses and significant others • Forensic pathology reports • Medical letters and reports, especially psychiatric ones • Suicide notes • Mobile phone records • Photographs • Other: letters to the coroner, newspaper clippings
Ethical implications of working with suicide case files • The challenge of preserving both anonymity and context • The emotional well-being of the researcher
The analytical implications of working with diverse documentary data • Theoretical implications – anti-reductionist sociology (Sibeon, 1999), a psycho-social approach. • Making explicit where interpretation comes from – making analysis visible.
An example of a case • …………
How do we make sense of these accounts? • The conditions under which the accounts are constructed. • What we do and do not know. • We have to work with tensions between sources – recognise them and resolve them or incorporate them where possible. • We need a holistic psycho-social interpretation of the suicide. • Not just case studies. We have 100 of these, so some quantification will also be needed.
References • Atkinson, J.M. (1978) Discovering Suicide. Studies in the Social Organization of Sudden Death. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.. • Douglas, J. (1967) The Social Meanings of Suicide, Princeton, Princeton University Press. • Durkheim, E. (2002 ) Suicide, London, Routledge. • Klinenberg, E. (2002) Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Chicago, Chicago University Press. • Scourfield, J. (2005) Suicidal masculinities. Sociological Research On-line, 10 (2) http://www.socresonline.org.uk/10/2/scourfield.html • Sibeon, R. (1999) Anti-reductionist sociology, Sociology 33 (2): 317-224