French History @IHR: Sarah Waters on the phenomenon of workplace suicide in 21st century France

Date & Place: Monday 1 December at the IHR, London.

Speaker: Sarah Waters (Leeds)

Paper Title: A Capitalism that kills: The phenomenon of workplace suicide in 21st century France

Chair: Iain Stewart (QMUL)

photo 2 (8)The concept of workplace suicide is a recent one. As Sarah Waters explained in her introduction , it is only since the 2000s that workplace suicide has been considered an actual phenomenon – and this is only in France, actually, for this concept still does not exist in many other countries such as the UK. By workplace suicide, Waters is not talking about suicide in the workplace (although this sometimes happens), but rather suicide linked to work-related issues. And if people have in the past killed themselves because of anxieties caused in the workplace, the direct link was only recently established in France. Indeed, the number of suicides in recently-privatised French companies such as France Telecom (Orange) has caused media outrage in the country, but news has not filtered at an international level. Indeed, the psychological damages of profit-driven managerial tactics are hard to assess with exactness, and as such generally get overlooked by society, politicians and scholars alike. Waters sets out to historicize this largely uncharted territory, and in her paper raises real questions about the link between financial gain and profit, and human anxiety and suicide. The topic is hard – and Waters is very aware of this – but her paper generated a series of interesting questions about suicide and society: its regional and gendered aspects, its use as a tool of protest, its ability to mirror the societal fractures in the western world. In light of the recent events at Imperial College, and the suicide of one of their academics, Waters’ research seems to be particularly relevant. We wish her all the best of luck as she continues with this relatively new project, and look forward to hearing more of her conclusions in the future!

Thanks again to Sarah for paper, and to all the attendees on that cold winter’s evening. Join us again on 15 December to hear Ed Naylor (Leeds) talk about immigrant detention centres in contemporary France (1963-2006).


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