Professor Sarah Waters

Professor Sarah Waters


I am Professor of French Studies, former Deputy Head of School (2015-2017) and Head of French (2011-2014) at the University of Leeds. I am currently Honorary Secretary of the Association of University Professors and Heads of French (AUPHF) am a previous member of the editorial board of Modern & Contemporary France (2002 to 2006).

Since 2016, my research has focused on the phenomenon of work suicides in France during the 2000s, examining what recent suicides tell us about conditions of labour in 21st century France. The research seeks to explain why, in the contemporary juncture of neoliberal capitalism, work or conditions of work can push some individuals to take their own lives. Drawing on a sociological tradition with its origins in the work of Emile Durkheim (1897) and Maurice Halbwachs (1930), I examine suicide as a social phenomenon whose causes transcend the individual and are located in society itself. The research examines a corpus of suicide letters written by employees at three companies during the period 2005 to 2015 and examines how suicidal individuals describe for themselves the social conditions that pushed them to take their own lives. The research was funded in a first phase by the Wellcome Trust (January 31 to 31 December 2016) which allowed me to establish an international network of researchers focused on this urgent and rising societal phenomenon. A second phase funded by an AHRC research leaders fellowship (January 2017 to June 2018) allowed me to undertake detailed primary research in France working alongside French academics, trade unionists and public health experts. I am currently completing a monograph on French work suicides which will be published by Liverpool University Press in 2020.

I graduated in French and Italian from University College Dublin and was awarded a scholarship from the Italian Cultural Institute to study at the University of Florence. I completed an MA in European Integration and a PhD in political economy at the University of Limerick. I was lectrice at the Université de Mont-Saint Aignan before coming to Leeds as lecturer in French. I was promoted to Professor in French Studies in 2017.

Selected publications


Suicide Voices. Testimonies of Trauma in the French Workplace (Liverpool University Press, forthcoming 2020)

Between Republic and Market. Globalization and Identity in Contemporary France (Continuum: 2012)

Memories of 1968. International Perspectives (co-edited with Ingo Cornils) (Peter Lang: 2010)

Social Movements in France. Towards a New Citizenship’ (Palgrave/Macmillan: 2003)

Edited journal volume

 ‘Work in Crisis’ special issue of Modern & Contemporary France (26: 3) August 2018. Co-edited with Jeremy Lane

 ‘Rethinking the Left in France’ special issue of Journal of Contemporary European Studies (Vol. 16, Issue, 1), Co-edited with Jim House, Brian Jenkins and Jeremy Leaman April 2008.

 ‘New Voices. Alternative Politics in France Today’ special issue of Modern and Contemporary France (Vol. 12, No, 1) February 2004. Co-edited with Joanne Drugan and Jim House

Journal articles

‘Liberalisation, surveillance and suicide in the French workplace’ Modern & Contemporary France 26 (3): 275-290. August 2018

‘Workplace Suicide and States of Denial: The France Télécom and Foxconn Cases Compared’ Communication, Capitalism and Critique (15 (1) 2017

‘Suicide Voices. Testimonies of Trauma in the French Workplace’ Medical Humanities (Published online 9 September 2016)

‘When Work Kills’ Journal of Public Mental Health (Co-authors: Prof Martin McKee, Dr Marina Karanikolos). 15 (4) 2016, pp. 229-234

‘Disappearing Bodies: The workplace and documentary film in an era of pure money’ French Cultural Studies 2015 26(3), August 2015, 289-301

‘Suicide as Protest in the French Workplace’ Modern & Contemporary France, 23(4), May 2015, pp.491-510

‘A Capitalism that kills. Workplace suicides at France Télécom’ French Politics, Culture and Society  32 (3), Winter 2014, pp.121-141

‘The 2008 Economic Crisis and the French Narrative of National Decline’ Modern & Contemporary France (Vol. 21, Issue 3) August 2013, pp. 335-354

‘French Intellectuals and Globalisation. A War of Worlds’ French Cultural Studies (Vol. 22, no. 4) November 2011, 303-320

 ‘Globalisation, the Confédération paysanne and symbolic power’ French Politics, Culture and Society (Vol. 28, No. 2) Summer 2010, pp. 96-117

‘Situating Movements Historically: May 1968, Alain Touraine and New Social Movement Theory’ Mobilization (Vol. 13, no. 1) March 2008, pp.63-82

‘A l’attac. Globalisation and Ideological renewal on the French Left’ Modern & Contemporary France (Volume 14, No.2) May 2006, pp.141-156

‘Mobilising against globalisation. Attac and the French Intellectuals’ West European Politics (Vol. 27, No. 5) 2004, pp.854-874

Book chapters

‘French paysans and symbolic power’ in F. Royall and D. Chabanet Poor People’s Movements in Europe (Peter Lang: 2014).

 ‘1968 in Memory and Place’ in Waters and Cornils eds. Memories of 1968. International Perspectives (Peter Lang:  2010).

‘Social Movements and Social Exclusion in the New France’ in F. Royall ed. Contemporary French Cultures and Societies (Peter Lang: 2004) pp. 109-124.


  • “Suicidal Work” Hazards (137) January-March 2017
  • An interview on my research was published in the Swedish newspaper Arbetsliv (9 January 2017).

  • “How work can lead to suicide in a globalised economy” (with Jenny Chan) The Conversation 16 August 2016
  • “On Work and Suicide” Counterpunch July 2016 (print version Vol 24, no 4)
  • “Who is Charile? Xenophobia and the New Middle Class” by Emmanuel Todd Book review Times Higher Education 20 August 2015
  • “Capitalism’s Victims” Jacobin 13 November 2014


Daniel Bensaïd “1968: A Classified Affair” in Waters and Cornils eds. Memories of 1968. International Perspectives (Peter Lang: April 2010)

External research income

AHRC Leaders Fellowship (£208k)’Neoliberal Globalisation and Suicide in the French Workplace’ 1 January 2017 to 30 June 2018.

Wellcome Trust Seed Award (46k) ‘Suicide Voices. Trauma in the Globalised Workplace’ 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2016

ASMCF Initiative Fund (£500) to support ‘Work Stories’ conference in April 2016

French Embassy: £500 for publication of edited volume (Peter Lang, 2010)

Association for the Study of Modern & Contemporary France: £800 for international conference in 2008; French Embassy: £500 for international conference in 2008

British Academy: £1,500 for international conference in 2002

Association for the Study of Modern & Contemporary France: £500 for international conference in 2002; French Embassy: £500 for international conference in 2002


Research collaboration and networks

  • My AHRC fellowship was based on a collaboration between researchers in the humanities and public health on the question of work suicides. The fellowship was organised in collaboration with two partner organisations: the European Observatory of Health Systems and Policies (a partnership of researchers, European Commission, WHO and World Bank) and the French government agency, Observatoire national du suicide. I organised two workshops at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the first in September 2016 (funded by the Wellcome Trust) brought together researchers in public health, humanities and social sciences from across the international stage; the second in May 2017 (funded by the AHRC) brought together participants from universities, suicide charities and trade unions in order to create a concerted strategy in relation to UK workplace legislation.
  • In the UK, I set up a network that brings together trade unionists, representatives from suicide charities and academics in the humanities and public health in order to lobby for a reform of health and safety regulations on occupational mental health and suicide. I was the lead author for a submission to the UK Parliament Health Committee’s suicide prevention enquiry (with McKee and Karanikolos) which was subsequently published on the government’s website. I was invited to the UK Parliament to meet the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 8 June 2016 to discuss workplace suicides.
  • I was a member of the academic panel of an international committee hosted by CNAM (Conservatoire national des arts et des métiers) to launch an international conference in Paris in October 2017.


  • I work in close collaboration with trade unions and suicide charities in campaigning for a reform of UK legislation on the question of workplace suicide. At the request of trade unions, I have produced briefing documents on current legislation in the UK and France that were circulated to trade union members. I have given a keynote lecture at the NASUWT annual conference and have published a feature article in the award-winning trade union magazine Hazards.
  • As part of the AHRC fellowship, we organised an impact project ‘Post-Work. Framing Work in Post-Industrial Europe’ that brought together trade unionists, filmmakers, academics and activists in order to explore the role of cinema in representing conditions of international labour and providing a platform for social change. The project was supported by LCS Strategic research fund and the Faculty of Arts Humanities project and was led by post-doctoral researchers Matthew John and Carmina Gustrán.
  • My research has been published widely in the European and US media and I have also given a radio interview.

Keynote lectures and Invited seminars (2016 onwards)

19 May 2019 Observatoire national du suicide, Paris ‘Reconnaissance légale du suicide lié au travail. Une perspective comparatiste de la France et de la Grande Bretagne’

19 May 2018 University of Sheffield  Suicide, Crisis and Society conference. Plenary lecture: ‘Suicide, Crisis and Cognitive Labour in 21st century France’

13 February 2018 California State University, Long Beach ‘French Students and China in May 1968. Between Myth and Reality’

23 and 25 October 2017 ‘On Work and Suicide in Neo-Liberal France’ New York University and Fordham College New York

7 September 2017 ASMCF annual conference. Keynote lecture ‘Neoliberalism and the medicalisation of work’

30 June 2017 NASUWT conference, Birmingham Keynote lecture ‘Work-related suicide: France and the UK compared’

6 December 2016, University of Sheffield ‘Liberalisation, surveillance and suicide in the French workplace’

18 November 2016 University of Oxford, Sociology ‘Why work kills. Reading suicide notes’

2 November 2016 University of Limerick ‘Liberalisation, surveillance and suicide in the French workplace’

16 April 2016 IMLR Work Stories conference ‘Workplace suicide and states of denial’

15 March 2016 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medecine ‘Suicide Voices. Testimony and Trauma in the French Workplace’

Research Supervision

I offer research supervision in areas including the French workplace, theories of capitalism, social movement theory, protest and social conflict in contemporary France, new social movements, leftist intellectuals, globalisation and opposition in France and debates on the 2008 economic crisis.








  • Currently on research leave
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Research groups and institutes

  • French
  • Conflict
  • Popular culture
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