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Anomie, Shame, and Resistance: The Impact of the Economy on Suicide


Roex,  Karlijn
International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Roex, K. (2018). Anomie, Shame, and Resistance: The Impact of the Economy on Suicide. PhD Thesis, Universität zu Köln, Köln.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0002-AB2C-D
In this project, I have built on a sociological tradition to identify factors that contribute to suicide that are external to the individual. This tradition was started by the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim. The two theories that have a central role for predicting suicide rates here, imply a central role for marketization in determining suicide risk. Marketization here means economic deregulation policies and the overall ‘rescripting’ of citizens to ‘consumers’ (Monahan, 2008). The main question of this project was: How is suicide influenced by unemployment, and how does this influence depend on the societal context of (increasing) marketization? Do dominant institutions only restrict suicidality, or can they also increase suicidality? The project consisted of three parts. The first part, using diffusion theories and building forward on the Industrial Relations literature, examines the diffusion of marketization processes from influential countries towards other countries, and the potentially blocking influence of popular resistance against marketization (Chapter 2). This part uses an innovative scale to capture marketization processes, in recognition of the fact that market deregulation does not only take place through direct attacks on unions, but also through opening clauses in collective agreements and a de facto decentralization of the wage bargain (Baccaro & Howell, 2011; 2017). The second and third part examine the impact of these widely diffusing marketization processes and the way people perceive these substantial transformations of their societies, on suicide rates (Chapter 3 and 4). This part derives from Durkheim’s (1897) classical Integration Theory, Institutional Anomie Theory (Messner & Rosenfeld, 1994) and theories on social norms and shame. The second part (Chapter 3) mainly focuses on the widely-studied suicidogenic presumed links between marketization, popular resistance against marketization and suicide rates – as well as on their influence on the link between macro-level changes in unemployment and suicide rates. The third part examines the mechanisms behind these links (Chapter 4). This study suggest new modifying factors here: marketization processes (as a risk-enhancing factor in the face of high unemployment or individual unemployment) and popular resistance against marketization (as a protective factor). Several theories proposed contrasting answers regarding this. By testing different mechanisms, the current project offers the first and most direct quantitative exploration of these mechanisms in a cross-national time series fashion. A popular classical notion in the sociological inquiry of suicide is that suicide will be more prevalent in disintegrative and anomic societies. Durkheim (1897: 382) states that anomie is a consequence from a lack of shared foci in a society (integration): collectivities that can regulate its individual members. As a result, these disintegrated individuals would become deregulated in their behaviour, or else distressed, with the same potential outcome: suicide. Rapid economic shifts, unemployment and marketization are thought to be anomic factors here. While Durkheim’s (1897) Integration Theory has been applied in virtually every social science study on suicide, a more contemporary derivative of this theory, Institutional Anomie Theory (Messner & Rosenfeld, 1994), has not. Yet, it has interesting insights to offer. According to Institutional Anomie theorists, it is the crowding out of non-market institutions and norms by market-based ones that has generated anomie. However, this anomie is concentrated among a narrower subpopulation, instead of the entire population. It is the groups in society that cannot comply with the norms of ‘the market’: people who are less efficient, out of work. What Durkheim sees as unregulated conduct – extremely egoistic individualism – Institutional Anomie Theory paradoxically reflects it as norm-conform behaviour. It is a problem of regulation not of deregulation. For those out of work it is harder to occupy a norm-fitting role and this could lead to both disintegration or anomie among them. Cross-sectional time series regression analysis (with fixed effects) was conducted across 33 OECD countries over a long time span: mostly 1960 to 2016. For some parts of the analysis, more selective country samples had to be employed (for instance, for analyses using Eurobarometer data) and shorter time spans because of lacking data. Data on both the macro-level and individual-level were used to disentangle specific mechanisms at work, such as the degree to which the unemployed feel ashamed or left out of society compared to the employed. Data were derived from a range of sources: OECD, World Bank, ICTWSS Data Version 5.1 (Visser, 2016), the World/ European Values Survey and Eurobarometer surveys. In sum, the results showed that there was a strong indication that marketization processes were unfolding in virtually all examined countries. Influential countries for the cross-national diffusion of such transformations were not, as expected, economically influential countries but rather similar welfare regime type countries. These substantive transformation processes in societies did not, however, influence the suicide rate – nor did they produce a suicidogenic impact of larger growths in unemployment (Chapter 3) or the individual effect of unemployment (Chapter 3 and 4). Finally, this study provided a tentative but innovative test of a classical sociological hypothesis: collective disintegration lifts up the suicide rate. More disintegrated societies – measured through the attitudinal Eurobarometer (1993; 2001; 2009; 2011/ 2012) item asking people whether they felt left out of society – did not have higher suicide rates. For women, more disintegration was even related to fewer suicides. Popular resistance against marketization appeared to be a key phenomenon, widely present across societies with almost 50% of many national populations opposing their present society’s emphasis on money and work. Rather, popular resistance against marketization appeared to have a protective impact for the general population regarding their suicide rates, as well as for unemployed men. However, more popular resistance was related to more feelings of being disintegrated from society among the unemployed – except when unemployment is rapidly growing. In that economic context, more popular resistance lowers the higher tendency of the unemployed to feel disintegrated and ashamed (compared to the employed). Moreover, more disconnectedness and shame among the unemployed was not related to their higher suicide rates. Overall, it appears people are creative to find innovative solutions in the midst of morally confusing circumstances of disembeddedness. Creating alternative sources of dignity while challenging the currently dominant emphasis on money and paid work (e.g. resistance) can be one of those solutions that people may find. Overall, it appears then that, for suicide rates, not the marketization policies or economic shocks per se matter, but the attitudes about them matter most.