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Lecture 2

Course Code
Sheldon Ungar

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Lecture 2 – Suicide rates. Sociological theories and theorists
Applying the Sociological Perspective: Social solidarity and anomie
Purpose: to show that suicide rates are powerfully affected by social relations.
Suicide appears to be an anti-social, nonsocial individual act:
-condemned widely by society
-generally committed in private
-comparatively rare
When Durkheim examined the relationship between suicide rates and rate of psychological disorder for
various groups he studied he expected to find high rates of psychological disorder accompanied by high
rates of suicides. Instead he found that Jews have one of the highest psychological disorder rates and one
of the lowest suicide rates, clearly there must be another factors affecting suicide rates
Durkheim showed that suicide rates increase with anomie and decrease with social solidarity
Social solidarity: Indicated by the number of social supports you have. Variables: family ties, # of
friends you could tell anything too, memberships in groups,(volunteering, church, orgs)
Social solidarity vs. the lonely crowd:
Anomie: normlessness, not the same as alienation, not knowing how to behave in a situation
-social change as producer of anomie:
Moving, new job, new school, being fired, divorce, death of someone, market crash,
Egotistic and Anomic Suicide Altruistic suicide Durkheim argued that the suicide rate decreases
and then raises as social solidarity increases.
Egotistic suicide results from the poor integration
of people into society because of weak social ties
to others. Anomic suicide occurs when vague
norms govern behaviour. People knowingly
giving up their lives to save others commit
altruistic suicide.
Comparing suicide rates:
1. men vs. women
Social solidarityAnomie
Men more likely to get fired or to feel lost
after a divorce
Women social support: family (even during
marriage), friendships
Men have higher rates; women however might try more often as a cry for help. Men also use guns more.
The statistics are pretty stable around the world

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2. old vs. young
Social solidarityAnomie
Old dead friends and family, kids out of
nest, weaker family ties, death of spouse
Retired, sick and physically unable
Young more friends, physically able to go out
and relate
Rates are higher on older people, they peak right after retirement and then they have the next peak when
they become really old 85+
3. rural vs. urban
Social solidarityAnomie
Urban by just a little, more interactions with
strangers not sure how to interact
Rural in rural, more neighbor interaction
stronger ties. Technology that has
weakened social ties in rural grounds: TV
Urban have higher suicide rates
4. catholic vs. protestant
Social solidarityAnomie
Protestant after printing thus read the Bible
instead of asking a priest/mediator for
interpretation, thus more room for anomie
Catholic Stronger sense of community priests have more power
Protestants have the higher rate
5. non-aboriginal vs. aboriginal
Social solidarityAnomie
Aboriginal really high anomie, live in reserves,
not part of Canadian culture. Trying to
maintain they culture and reject Canadian
culture. No sense of future. No-mans
Non-aboriginal Stronger sense of community
Aboriginal people have a much higher rate. The Innu of Labrador are actually the most suicide prone
people in the world (13 times higher than the rest of Canadians- 2001). There is a higher rate in teen
suicide in the aboriginal population.
If suicides were just the result of individual depression or mental illness, they would NOT vary
systematically by group, time...(this is an important idea)
Explaining data changes over time

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Suicide rates rising in Canada
-In 1992 at least 3709 suicides in Canada
-Rise due to:
-social changes in society
-changes in recording death certificates!!!!!
Data is socially constructed
Data is:
- determined as much by political & administrative procedures as by what is happening in the real
-law/social control---> increase in observed rates
e.g. 1 Prostitution charges:
Changes in the law:
-Soliciting law: need to have evidence of talking about price DROPS
-Supreme Court interprets soliciting narrowly (harder to prosecute) RISES A LITTLE
-1985 Bill C49 SHOOTS UP
Prostitution didn’t shoot up in the age of AIDS
Police knows about prostitution, they can either: a-)
ignore it
b-) press charges if people complain
What they do mostly depends on what happens when they
go to court, since prosecution is a resource consuming
e.g. 2 Suicide rates:
Change in reporting childrens suicides:
-Before when kids committed suicide it was treated as an accident
by the Church or the coroners since children don’t leave suicide
notes and insurance doesn’t cover suicide, plus there is the social
and religious stigma it carries.
-Coroners don’t ignore suicides or treat them as accidents
Social structure and Sociological imagination:
As shown by the suicide example, social relations affect
individuals and influence their feelings and behaviour. Social
structures are the relatively stable patterns of social relations.
Levels of social structure:
1. Microstructures: Patterns of intimate social relations
formed during face-to-face interactions.
e.g. Family, friendship circles, work associations, acquaintances.
The strength of weaker ties: People who you know are likely to know the same kind of people, people to
whom you are weakly related and are weakly connected among themselves are more likely to know
different groups of people.
Auguste Comte (1798-1875)
Father of sociology (1838).
Positivist. The use of scientific
methods and a vision of the
ideal society were evident in
his work. He was a Frenchman
of conservative ideas. Saw
social laws as equivalent to the
laws of nature (really they
aren’t).Wants sociological
priesthood. Elevated positivism
to a religion.
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
Second founder of sociology.
British. Believed that society
operates according to scientific
laws and in Social Darwinism:
societies evolve like biological
systems; survival of the fittest;
social inequalities were
necessary if societies were to
evolve. Wealthy industrialists
loved this theory.
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