What Would Durkheim Think – Corporate Suicide And Family Annihilation

I have blogged about econocides before and today, again,

This is highly reminiscent of the Enron suicide. Both involved the fear of investigation and potential loss of reputation and status and possible humiliation rather than individual economic downfall, as we have seen before. Also, these are also masculine suicides. As Pierre Maura notes, anomic conditions might indeed bring their "contingent of voluntary deaths":

Maura also points to this post by Claude Bordes that has a detailed overview of Durkheim’s Suicide. On anomic suicide, for instance,

Indeed, deregulation unleashed wild processes of enrichment with no social limitations. But once the social structure collapses, all of a sudden, all these anomic excesses are exposed. Exposure seems to be crucial factors in these corporate suicides.

On the other hand, in the case of family annihilation followed by suicides, it is the loss of agency and control and the perspective of loss of status that seem to be central, again, as part of a masculine conception of "what men should do."

What is especially interesting is that even though it is men / fathers who murder their families and then commit suicide, this patriarchal dimension is often evacuated. Indeed, look at the Context post "When do people turn to murder-suicide?" But it is not "people" turning to murder and suicide: it is rejected husbands and fathers. And as this post in Sociological Images notes, media report tend to shift blame onto the rejecting wives. To use only one examples of many such headlines,

In such cases, Robert Merton’s Strain Theory seems to apply better, with his redefinition of anomie.

"Merton was mainly concerned with American society, where he detected a universal cultural goal of material success, an unequal distribution of the acceptable means to reach such a goal, and consequent adoption of alternative, illegitimate solution. His interest was in the structural causes of non-conformist (deviant) behaviour." (Thompson, 120)

Hence, Merton’s classical typology of acceptance / rejection of goals and means.

Sociology – Robert Merton’s Social Strain Theory: Helpful in Criminology, Understanding Anomie and Deviance via kwout

But in a patriarchal society, success is not just measured materially but also in terms of social relationships. The common trait in these murders / suicides is the anomie generated by the loss of patriarchal standing (which may have been preceded, as in some cases, by domestic violence) and of the object of one’s dominance and control (wife and children). And since patriarchal families and conjugal relationships are perceived as the only possible form of intimate relationships, once that is seen as gone, the pattern is one of (1) regaining control in an illegitimate way (murder as innovation), but then, faced with societal consequences, (2) suicide as retreatism.

2 thoughts on “What Would Durkheim Think – Corporate Suicide And Family Annihilation

  1. I really enjoyed the analysis in this post. Part of the whole hegemonic masculinity concept is that masculinity is public – it’s a show. It doesn’t matter as much what a man is, but rather what others think he is. When what’s not real is exposed, well…

    Also, the de-gendering of all these econocides in the media is, unfortunately, typical of the media and its coverage of crime/delinquency. Unless women/girls are caught for something criminogenic, it’s business as usual, and we forget how harmful hegemonic masculinity is for society.

    • You’re right, hegemonic masculinity is a show but it is also an unquestioned / unexamined one. It is taken for granted. So, when fathers kill their families and themselves, the killing part is not really examined, what is investigated are the potential “outside” reasons that might have caused a man to do something… the something itself remains not investigated.

      And in the process of investigating, then, it is other social relations that are brought it but the dominant element is never discussed.

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