Suicidism: A new theoretical framework to conceptualize suicide from an anti-oppressive perspective

Alexandre Baril


Anchored in queer and crip perspectives, this essay proposes the neologism "suicidism" as a new theoretical framework to conceptualize the oppressive system in which suicidal people experience forms of injustice and violence. The thesis proposed here is that suicidal people suffer both individually and collectively from suicidist violence, an oppression that remains unproblematized in all current interpretations of suicide, including those taken up by anti-oppressive scholars and activists. I pursue three interrelated objectives: 1) interrogate dominant ideas and perspectives on suicidality; 2) make visible and denounce the power relations between suicidal and non-suicidal people; 3) enrich intersectional analyses by naming and problematizing an oppression that has been neglected. In sum, this essay proposes to analyze suicidality by asking the following epistemological questions: What and who is missing from current conceptualizations of suicide? What can we learn from these absences? How might new understandings of suicide, from queer and crip perspectives, help anti-oppressive scholars and activists avoid reproducing forms of oppression toward suicidal people? This essay is divided into two parts. The first part reviews some of the predominant models of suicide to illustrate how they all arrive at the same conclusion—that suicide is never an option—and how this results in a silencing of suicidal subjects. In so doing, I also demonstrate how suicidism is intertwined in forms of ableism/sanism. I conclude this first part by mobilizing the notion of epistemic injustice to theorize both the testimonial and hermeneutical injustices experienced by suicidal subjects. In the second part, I explore additional interpretations of suicide that contrast with the dominant "negative" conceptualizations that seek to prevent it in all circumstances. I demonstrate how even "positive" perspectives of suicidality (e.g. the libertarian position) are founded in forms of ableism/sanism, and that even though they may critique the marginalization of suicidal subjects, they don't conceptualize their oppression as systemic, nor address it from an anti-oppressive perspective. Critiquing the "positive" conceptualizations of suicide allows me to delineate an alternative conceptualization of suicide rooted in queer and crip perspectives. Mobilizing a queer perspective to study suicide doesn't mean offering only analyses that take queer theories as a starting point or queer communities as the objects of the study. The intention is rather to queer suicide in a more holistic sense, that is, by applying queering and cripping methods, theories, epistemologies and prevention strategies to the topic of suicidality. Based on a harm-reduction and a non-coercive suicide approach, I suggest that assisted suicide should be a possibility for suicidal people, a position that relies on an ethics of living and a responsibility toward suicidal people.


suicidal people; suicide; suicidism; models to theorize suicide; stigmatisation; ableism/sanism; anti-oppressive perspective; epistemic injustice; critical suicidology

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Copyright (c) 2020 Alexandre Baril

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