- Start date: 1 January 2017
- End date: 30 June 2018
- Funder: AHRC
- Primary investigator: Professor Sarah Waters
The fellowship examines the recent ‘epidemic’ of workplace suicides in France and asks why, in the present historical juncture, work or conditions of work can push some individuals to take their own lives.
Work suicide is a recent phenomenon historically and recorded cases prior to the 1990s are rare. In France, the workplace traditionally acted as a space of social and cultural integration that defined forms of collective identity and incarnated ideals of social progress.To investigate this phenomenon, the fellowship engages in a close reading of testimonial material linked to 82 suicide cases in three French companies during the period 2005 to 2015: Orange, Renault and La Poste.
Recent suicides have been marked by an intensified production of texts through which suicidal individuals have sought to ascribe meaning to their own self-killing and shape its subsequent interpretation in the public sphere. The fellowship investigates what these ‘suicide voices’ can tell us about subjective, quotidian and material conditions of work.
- What are the social conditions to which recent testimonies bear witness?
- How does abstract economics engage with the human body in the workplace?
- Why, for these individuals, has the everyday workplace been transformed into a site of extreme human suffering?
The fellowship aims to examine the singular, extreme and narrated act of suicide as a prism for interrogating the economic order as a whole and its human effects in the workplace. It will bring an arts and humanities perspective that emphasises subjective and lived experiences, to bear on a critical issue of public health.
A key innovation of the fellowship is to build partnerships with two leading international organisations for purposes of disseminating research to public health audiences and shaping health policy agendas (European Observatory of Health Systems and Policies and Observatoire national du suicide). My project partners each play a central role in disseminating knowledge about public health issues and advising governments and international organisations on health policy.
I will work closely with public health professionals in each organisation. The project also engages with trade union organisations in the UK and France which are directly implicated by the research in order to discuss workplace risks and how best to inform, support and protect employees in relation to these risks.
In the UK, I published a feature article on work suicides in the award-winning trade union magazine Hazards and presented a keynote paper at the NASUWT annual conference. I held a meeting with the Shadow Minister of Work and Pensions at the UK Parliament and submitted a co-authored paper to the UK parliament Health Committee on suicide prevention. I provided briefing documents to trade union representatives for dissemination to their members.
The post-doctoral researchers linked to the fellowship ran a project 'Post-Work. Framing Labour in Post-industrial Europe'