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    The Politics of Suicide: Historical Perspectives on Suicidology before Durkheim. An Introduction

    Brancaccio, Maria Teresa and Engstrom, Eric J. and Lederer, David (2013) The Politics of Suicide: Historical Perspectives on Suicidology before Durkheim. An Introduction. Journal of Social History, 46 (3). pp. 607-619. ISSN 1527-1897

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    Historically, suicide is a Western neologism. Unknown to Greco-Roman civilization, suicidium might as well have meant “swine-slaying” to a Latin speaker.1 The warrior culture of Germanic successor states glorified heroic self-sacrifice, celebrated in medieval literature as chansons de geste. If St. Augustine condemned Donatism for actively promoting martyrdom during the persecutions, then in part for fear of its potential to rob the early Christian movement of much-needed membership. Medieval Christians unanimously reviled the desperate act of self-killing until Renaissance humanists and artists recalled the political defiance of Cato, Seneca and, most especially, Lucretia, the original struggle of republicanism with tyranny manifest in the dagger through her heart. With their novel emphasis on the modification of human behavior, religious reformers turned their attention to the human soul and the inner temptation to self-murder. It fell to the Enlightenment to turn the activity of self-killing into a subject for scientific analysis: Suicide. Suicide became a moral affliction that was to be attended to not just by the police, but also by physicians and, subsequently, mental health care professionals. As representatives of the state, they produced actionable bureaucratic data. In a scramble to establish its scientific credentials, the emergent discipline of social physics (later to become sociology) latched on to official reports as indicators of a modern social dilemma. Hence, suicidology was born. With the expressed goals of measuring human behavior and tackling practical social issues, the earliest practitioners of social physics identified and prioritized suicide as a dramatic, but potentially soluble public health problem. For social physicists, suicide manifested a moral malaise as sensational as perhaps no other human behavior...

    Item Type: Article
    Keywords: History of Suicide; moral statistics; Durkheim, Emile; Suicidology;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Arts & Humanities > History
    Item ID: 11486
    Identification Number:
    Depositing User: David Lederer
    Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 15:33
    Journal or Publication Title: Journal of Social History
    Publisher: Oxford University Press
    Refereed: Yes
    Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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