The American Sociologist

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 292–305 | Cite as

Sociology’s Suicide: A Forensic Autopsy?

  • Patrick D. NolanEmail author
  • Jennifer Triplett
  • Shannon McDonough


For decades Durkheim’s theory of suicide has been tested and found wanting. Yet, rather than being consigned to the dust-bin of history, it lives on and is pointed to as an exemplar of the powers of sociological theory and research. If this rationalizing and/or dismissal of so many falsifications of the theory were an isolated phenomenon, it might be evidence of some lemming-like propensity for suicide or a disciplinary death-wish, among a few sociologists. But it appears to be a much more widespread and common occurrence. In this paper we explore some possible explanations of this ‘falsification denial’—‘The Social Misconstruction of Reality’ (Hamilton 1996), ‘When Prophecy Fails’ (Festinger et al. 1956), ‘Underdetermination’ (Duhem 1954; Quine Journal of Philosophy 67:178–183, 1970, Erkenntnis 9:313–328, 1975; Lakatos 1970), and ‘Boundary Maintenance’ (Erikson 1966), and we outline some of the more important and pernicious consequences of this falsification denial for the discipline and future of sociology.


Falsification Durkheim Suicide Sociology of Science Fallibilism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick D. Nolan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jennifer Triplett
    • 1
  • Shannon McDonough
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

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