Abstract

As the science of statistics emerged over the nineteenth century, it took suicide as one of its core objects and ultimately created a new domain of knowledge in suicidology. In the process, the phenomenon of suicide was transformed into a twofold symbol and symptom of modern civilization, embodying the costs and dangers of social progress, yet also hopes for the potentially transformative role of scientific knowledge in society. This dichotomy was especially important in nineteenth-century Russia, where the tensions between statistics as a governmental and a public-scientific project (Ian Hacking) were notably acute. This article charts the history of suicide statistics in Russia, exploring how multilayered associations between suicide and civilization were mapped upon perceived geographical, historical, and social fissures, both within Russia and between Russia and an abstract “west.” The transnational methods and universalizing principles of moral statistics thereby combined with local specificities—political, social, national, scientific—to produce a set of narratives about Russian tradition, backwardness, and modernity. By the early twentieth century, the suicide rate would become politicized in a very particular way, not just as a social problem, but also as an explicitly political matter implicating the fundaments of Russia’s autocratic system. The making of modern suicide, therefore, cannot be understood without attention to its multiple and particular histories.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 651-667
Launched on MUSE
2013-03-12
Open Access
No
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