Round Tables
Tables Rondes

18. The history of suicide
18. L'histoire du suicide

Monday, 7 August, 9:00-12:00
Lundi 9 août de 9h à 12h

Building D, Auditorium 4

David Ledered, Irland

Our general approach to the theme will be a cultural one, even if the cultural history of suicide will be approached from different angles by the authors. In his paper, Anders Ekström deals with what he claims was the cultural construction of a moralising statistics of suicide in nineteenth-century Sweden, where the debate on suicide served as a way of criticising the evolving modern society. Irma Papeno's paper is an epistemological and historiographical counterpart to Ekström's paper. Assessing the achievements in this particular field of research since the 70s, she asks if it is possible to gain access to the human experience in the historical investigation of suicide unless the historian turns into a polyhistor. The longue durée of unparalleled high suicide rates in Hungary is the theme of David Lederer's paper. This is seen as the outcome of a peculiarly persistent habit of patriotic self-sacrifice in a culture which otherwise had many legal and popular traits in common with the surrounding countries, where, however, self-destruction was far less frequent than in Hungary. In his contribution to the conference Michel Porret is dealing with a new and more affirmative culture of self-destruction dawning in Geneva after 1750, emerging partly out of growing individualism and the ambivalence to suicide displayed by les phiosophes of Enlightenment. Michael MacDonald will reconsider some of his arguments in his famous book Sleepless Souls in light of Alexander Murray's recently published book on suicide in the medieval period. In his paper, Kushner is approaching the matter from a more essentialist perspective than the rest of the contributors. He claims that historians should re-examine the rather old-fashioned cultural, psychological or sociological models of explanation of suicidal behaviour in light of recent scientific progress made in neurobiological studies of suicide. In a series of studies done at the Karolinska Institute (lead by Marie Åsberg, see below), a definite relationship has been established between completed suicide and low levels of serotonin the brain. Finally, like Papemo, Arne Jarrick, in his introduction to the session, will approach the subject historiographically, but will also put forward a set of hypotheses concerning fantasies of suicidal people, accompanying them in their self-destructive endeavours.


Round Table 17
Table Ronde 17



Round Table 19
Table Ronde 19