UCSD Sociology Critical Interpretation Essay

Critical Interpretation Essay # 1

Essay Subject: Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide in the 21 st Century: Its Relevance and Its Limits

Formatting Instructions:
Essay length: You should write 5 pages (not including bibliography/reference list). Of course, you
can write more if that works for you but 5 pages should be the minimum.
Spacing/Font: Double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pt.
Bibliography format: Use an academic referencing style consistently, I recommend the Chicago
Manual of Style (guidelines for citing using the CMS are found freely online), but you can use any
other style, for example, APA.

General Guidelines:
During the first part of the course we examined the works of Émile Durkheim. Specifically, we studied both his Rules of the Sociological Method and Suicide: A Study in Sociology. Reading these works together we saw, first, how Durkheim established a set of guidelines for the development of research and, indirectly, the construction of social theories. In fact, his theory of suicide is an example of the application of his methodological rules. For example, remember how
Durkheim defined a “social fact” (and his rules for its observation) and compare it to how he establishes what is a suicide from a sociological perspective. It is clear that he defines and delimits suicides by following his own rules for the observation of social facts. Durkheim, however, did not simply establish a sociological definition of suicide and provided us with a systematic methodology for its observation. He also developed a typology of suicides and used it to explain statistical and empirical evidence. In other words, Durkheim developed a set of related concepts that he used to explain what the data/evidence means—this is what constructing a social theory looks like. All in all, Durkheim provided one of the earliest theories of the field of sociology. He argued that suicide rates—not necessarily individual suicides—were not only a psychological phenomenon, but also a social one. Therefore, he developed a sociological theory of suicide trends
by developing a conceptual framework to classify different types of suicides and describe the social conditions that increase the likelihood of each type of suicide. This work was and still is both influential and controversial. Is suicide really a sociological phenomenon that Durkheim’s theory can explain? Even if the theory might have worked in his time—does his theory still apply today? These are questions that sociologists still debate today, and in your essay you will address
them. Your essay, then, should address the general merits of Durkheim’s theory of suicide by outlining the theory and examining its strengths and possible shortcomings. Remember that the overall goal of this essay is to show that you can explain and, to a reasonable extent, evaluate Durkheim’s theory (these are course learning objectives 2 & 6).

Recommended Structure
When writing your essay, you may follow the points listed below.
1. Introduction. Write a brief introduction for your essay where you simply outline what the essay argues (remember that while the introduction is the first thing that shows in an essay, it is better to write it after the main text and conclusion are completed).

2. Elaboration of argument. This is the main body of your essay—you can divide it into sub-sections with headings if you find that useful. Here you need to do a couple of things.
a. First, you should explain—very briefly—why suicide should be considered as a social problem or sociological phenomenon (of course, here you should follow Durkheim’s own reasoning).
b. Secondly, using quotes and/or examples from Durkheim’s Rules of the Sociological Method and his Suicide, explain to the how Durkheim’s study of suicide is an application of Durkheim’s methodological rules. To show the connection between the two works, think of the following questions:
i. How does Durkheim’s discussion of suicide in the Introduction to his book compare to (or resembles) his discussion of what is a social fact?
ii. How does Durkheim use data and other evidence to “discard preconceptions”? Look, for example, at how Durkheim examines the relationship between suicide rates and what he calls “cosmic factors” (basically, the seasons of the year). How is he using the data here? Is it to prove or to challenge an idea?
iii. Lastly, at what level does he establish a connection between his typology of suicides and actual suicide rates—is it about individual experiences or society-level processes? How does this relate to his idea that social facts need to be explained by other social facts? Here you can spend some time explaining Durkheim’s actual theory, for example, describe the types of
suicide and how they relate to certain social conditions—that, in itself, can
be a form of explaining Durkheim’s methodology.

3.Conclusion.Afterexplainingwhysuicideshouldbeconsideredasociological phenomenon and showing how Durkheim addresses it via his own methodological rules, by way of conclusion, you will briefly evaluate whether Durkheim’s theory is relevant today. Can we use his concepts to understand today’s suicide trends, for example, the trends discussed in the short video “Why ‘Deaths of Despair’ May Be a Warning Sign for America”? In what ways is it too limited for our contemporary moment? Of course, my own questions here hint at what I consider the best approach: rather than a blanket rejection or uncritical embrace of Durkheim’s theory, it is probably better to argue that Durkheim’s theory of suicide hassomecontemporary relevance but that it also has some limitations. The important thing to know is: where is the relevance and where are the limits?

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *