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Box 1.1. Around the World. Four Types of Suicide
Emile Durkheim, like many other social scientists, developed a theory to explain how individual behavior can be understood within a social context. He pointed out the influence of groups and societal forces on what had always been viewed as a highly personal act. Clearly, Durkheim offered a more scientific explanation for the causes of suicide than that of sunspots or inherited tendencies. His theory has predictive power, since it suggests that suicide rates will rise or fall in conjunction with certain social and economic changes. It is important to understand that a theory – even the best of theories – is not a final statement about human behavior. Durkheim’s theory of suicide is no exception; sociologists continue to examine factors which contribute to a society’s rate of suicide. For example, people across the United States were shocked by the national news reports in 1987 concerning four New Jersey teenagers who together drove into a garage, closed the door, and let carbon monoxide fumes take their lives, thereby engaging in a collective act of suicide. Within little more than a week, 10 more teenagers in four different states killed themselves in garages using carbon monoxide. These suicides were more than a coincidence; sociological research from 1973 through the present documents that the incidence of suicides increases following nationally televised stories about suicide and that teenagers are especially vulnerable to such ″copycat″ behavior. Studies show that the impact is greatest after the publicized suicide of entertainer or politician and is somewhat less after the suicide of an artist, criminal, or member of the economic elite.
Durkheim’s theory is the first of many introduced in this textbook as a way of better understanding society. One means of classifying sociological theories is by the subject under study; for example, there are theories concerning the causes of criminal behavior or the universal nature of religion. Yet theories can also be distinguished in another way – by level of analysis.
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