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Suicide Voices: Testimony & Trauma in the French Workplace

France has experienced what the international media has described as a ‘suicide epidemic’ in the workplace with rising numbers of employees choosing to kill themselves in the face of extreme pressures at work. The former chief executive of France Télécom notably, was placed under judicial investigation in the case of 35 suicides by employees at the company in 2008 and 2009.

What distinguishes the French context is that suicides have been marked by an intensified production of texts (suicide letters, recordings, legal documents) in which suicidal individuals have sought to communicate, interpret and explain for themselves the factors that pushed them towards self-killing. This paper draws on an analysis of a corpus of 82 suicide testimonies written by employees across three French companies during the period 2005 to 2015: France Télécom (rebranded as Orange in 2013), Renault and the French postal services (La Poste).

These testimonies have played a critical in establishing the principle of corporate responsibility for suicide in France. Yet, they can also give us a critical insight into the factors that lie behind rising workplace suicides. I draw on a post-Durkheimian perspective that lays emphasis on situated and narrated experience as a means to gain a deeper understanding of the societal and structural causes of workplace suicide. My research aims to build critical cross-disciplinary links across the Humanities and Public Health and engage with recent epidemiological research on the rise of ‘economic suicides’ internationally.

Speaker: Dr Sarah Waters is Senior Lecturer in French Studies at the University of Leeds and is leading two research projects, one funded by the Wellcome Trust and a second, by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


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