Common Sense and Sociological Research
Most of us have commonsense ideas about suicide. Common sense, for example, may tell us that people who threaten suicide will not commit suicide. Sociological research indicates that this assumption is frequently incorrect: People who threaten to kill themselves are often sending messages to others and may indeed attempt suicide. Common sense allay also Te us that suicide is caused by despair or depression. However. research suggests that suicide is sometimes used as a means flashing out at friends and relatives because of real or imagined wrongs. Before reading on. take the quiz in Box 2.1. which lists a number of commonsense notions about suicide. Historically, the commonsense view of suicide was that it was a sin. a crime. and a mental illness (Evans and Paperboard, 1988). Emile Durkheim refused to accept these explanations. In what is probably the first sociological study to use scientific research methods,he related suicide to the issue of cohesiveness (or lack of cohesiveness) in society instead of viewing suicide as an isolated act that could be understood only by studying individual personalities or inherited tendencies. In Suicide (I 964bl! 897). Durkheim documented his contention that a high suicide rate was symptomatic of large-scale societal problems. In the process. he developed an approach to research that influences researchers to this day (see "Sociology Works!"). As we discuss sociological research. we will use the problem of suicide to demonstrate the research process. Because much of sociology deals with everyday life. we might think that common sense. our OWIl personal experiences. and the media are the best source! of information. However. our personal experiences are subjective. and much of the information provided
by the media comes from sources seeking support for a particular point of view.
The content of the media is also influenced by the continual need for audience ratings. We need to be able to evaluate the information we receive. This is especially true because the quantity-but. in some instances. not the quality-of Information available has grown "dramatically as a result of the information explosion brought about by computers and by the telecommunications industry.