Farewell to the WorldA History of Suicide
Farewell to the World
A History of Suicide
Translated by Lucinda Byatt
What drives a person to take his or her own life? Why would an individual be willing to strap a bomb to himself and walk into a crowded marketplace, blowing himself up at the same time as he kills and maims the people around him? Does suicide or ‘voluntary death’ have the same meaning today as it had in earlier centuries, and does it have the same significance in China, India and the Middle East as it has in the West? How should we understand this distressing, often puzzling phenomenon and how can we explain its patterns and variations over time?

In this wide-ranging comparative study, Barbagli examines suicide as a socio-cultural, religious and political phenomenon, exploring the reasons that underlie it and the meanings it has acquired in different cultures throughout the world. Drawing on a vast body of research carried out by historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and psychologists, Barbagli shows that a satisfactory theory of suicide cannot limit itself to considering the two causes that were highlighted by the great French sociologist Émile Durkheim – namely, social integration and regulation. Barbagli proposes a new account of suicide that links the motives for and significance attributed to individual actions with the people for whom and against whom individuals take their lives.

This new study of suicide sheds fresh light on the cultural differences between East and West and greatly increases our understanding of an often-misunderstood act. It will be the definitive history of suicide for many years to come.
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  • October 2015
  • 400 pages
  • 158 x 237 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $88.25
  • 9780745662442
  • Paperback $31.25
  • 9780745662459
  • Open eBook $25.99
  • 9780745680422
Table of Contents

Part One: In the West

I. The Worst Sin and the Gravest Crime

II. The Key to Our Prison

III. Killing God, Oneself and Others

IV. If Poverty Does Not Protect

Part Two: In the East

V. Before Becoming a Widow

VI. Making the Strong and Powerful Tremble.

VII. The Body as a Bomb

Part One: In the West
I. The worst sin and the gravest crime
1. The rise in suicide: “a most tragic fact”. 2. When did the figure start to rise? 3. The reasons for this growth. 4. Past reactions. 5. Punishments for those who killed themselves or attempted to do so. 6. Dishonourable burial. 7. On the formation of Christian ethics regarding voluntary death. 8. Chastity, rape and adultery. 9. Arabs, Christians and martyrs. 10. Christian beliefs regarding the causes of suicide. 11. Despair and the Redcrosse Knight. 12. Pre-Christian beliefs on the consequences of suicide. 13. Suicide as theft and desertion. 14. A “new crime, that would hardly be believable”. 15. Internal and external controls.
II. The key to our prison
1. The lawfulness of suicide. 2. A changed sensitivity in the literature. 3. A new name for an old deed. 4. Natural and supernatural causes. 5. Melancholy, hypochondria and hysteria. 6. Depenalisation de facto. 7. Depenalisation de iure. 8. Saving endangered lives. 9. The freedom to take one’s own life.
III. Killing God, oneself and others
1. Two opposite trends. 2. Two channels of a single stream. 3. Public and private crimes. 4. What brought about these changes. 5. At the forefront of change. 6. Despair, anger, hatred.
IV. If poverty does not protect
1. Sociology’s “one law” and what remains. 2. When the Jews lost their “ancient immunity”. 3. The effects of Nazism and Fascism. 4. Concentration camps and prisons. 5. The Great Wars. 6. Emigrations. 7. Suicide is a “White thing”. 8. A question of some delicacy. 9. Sexual orientation. 10. Economic depressions [Recessions?] and crises of prosperity. 11. The unforeseen consequences of the shift to methane. 12. The trend inversion in central and northern Europe. 13. The medicalization of suicide and its effects. 14. The treatment of pain and other illnesses. 15. The steep rise in Eastern Europe.
Part Two: In the East
V. Before becoming a widow
1. Sati. 2. The Rite. 3. The effects of polygamy. 4. Funeral and wedding ceremonies. 5. Through love or coercion. 6. Suicides: condemned and admired. 7. The origin and spread of sati as a custom. 8. Sati or widow. 9. A clash of cultures.
VI. Making the strong and powerful tremble.
1. The past. 2. Chinese peculiarities. 3. Continuity and change. 4. Old people and filial devotion. 5. Suicide among Chinese women. 6. Mao Zedong and the May Fourth paradigm. 7. The cultural repertoire of suicides. 8. The State and honouring the virtuous. 9. After a husband’s death. 10. Differences compared to sati. 11. Following the death of a fiancé . 12. A way of not submitting to enemies. 13. After assault and sexual violence. 14. Against arranged marriages. 15. The origin of the changes. 16. Against oneself and others. 17. Female suicide in the last two decades.
VII. The Body as a Bomb
1. Suicide attacks and terrorism. 2. The modern phenomenon of suicide missions. 3. The rationality of weak players. 4. Nationalism and religious differences. 5. The globalisation of suicide missions. 6. Cyberspace. 7. Becoming a suicide bomber. 8. For a noble cause. 9. An army of roses.

About the Author
Marzio Barbagli is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Bologna
Marzio Barbagli is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Bologna
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“An encyclopedic but immensely readable account of the social norms that surround, and individual motives that propel, such fateful choices… a deeply insightful book that will interest suicide-prevention counselors and others who are curious about this complex topic.”
Foreword Reviews

"Barbagli’s study is a brilliant synthesis of the history and sociology of suicide, covering both the West and the East, from ancient martyrs to contemporary suicide bombers. He eloquently and persuasively argues for the importance of cultural factors behind huge variations in the propensity to take one’s own life from one society to another."
Jeffrey Watt, University of Mississippi

"This work is the most important on the sociology of suicide in 100 years. Barbagli lays out the grand picture of changes and variations in time and space, and gives the basis for a theory that is simultaneously cultural, structural and dynamic."
Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania

"This wide-ranging study provides fascinating insight into, and analysis of, the history and practice of suicide across a range of cultural and historical contexts. The book takes the reader on a methodical and thorough journey through the subject matter."
Canadian Journal of History
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