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Type: Conference paper
Title: Suicide and civic republicanism: Questioning Durkheim and Putnam
Author: Mayer, P.
Citation: Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, 29 September - 1 October 2004, Adelaide, South Australia, pp.1-20
Publisher: University of Adelaide
Publisher Place: Online
Issue Date: 2004
Conference Name: Australasian Political Studies Association Conference (2004 : Adelaide, South Australia)
Abstract: Virtually all sociological studies of suicide consider it to be a symptom of social disorganisation. This tradition of interpretation goes back at least to Durkheim's own initial use of suicide as a proxy for social happiness. More recently, in Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam has argued that rising youth suicide rates in the US are related to their declining levels of social capital. This paper argues that the conventional association of suicide with social dysfunction is incorrect. It finds in four case studies (19th century Italy, late 20th century and late 20th century Italy, India and the U.S.A.) that suicide rates (in one case, suicides as a percentage of intentional deaths) are strongly and positively correlated with measures of civic engagement, themselves understood to be measures of social capital. In Italy, for example, those regions of northern Italy which Putnam in Making Democracy Work reported as having the highest levels of Civic Traditions and Civic Community were also found to be those in which suicide rates were highest. The paper argues that a variant of Barber's 'relative misery hypothesis'—outward social comparison—may explain why small numbers of individuals in socially connected, highly civic societies are more likely to take their own lives.
RMID: 0020072535
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Appears in Collections:Politics publications

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