Academic Papers Nanda Illahi

Suicide: A Dialectic Relationship between the Personal and Social

This article combines a personal storytelling and the author’s reflection on academic literature that ponders around the idea of “suicide” and the agency of the person committing the act.

Written by Nanda Illahi


“Perhaps we should end this now, you’ve done enough,” said the lady inside my head. How often can a person have a debate with their inner lions? I can practically hear the sound of the existential crisis eating me alive. If I take my own life, everyone will say, I’m evil. If I don’t, I will think everybody else is evil. There is really no in-between. In a journey of finding the meaning of “suicide,” this paper involves a debate between oneself and the society that does not listen. Building upon the works of sociologists and anthropologists, I take a detour of the notion of suicide and the agency of the person committing the act.

“Have you ever thought of giving up on life because it’s too hard to keep living? If you have the choice to end your suffering by killing yourself, would you?” I asked myself these questions as I walked in the midst of what seemed to be an unending winter.

The smell of the rain that had just stopped along with the hard blows of cold breeze on my reddened cheeks accompanied my lonely adventure to an existential crisis. As a lost wanderer, not knowing where to go, I dared myself to hop on an anonymous train. I asked myself once more, “Do I even have a choice in dying?”

Man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away,” said Socrates. 

Plato in Noon 1978, p. 373

Montaigne says, “The wise man lives as long as he ought, not so long as he can…” (Noon 1978, p. 378) illustrating that death is a choice of the one living the life, not the God or Nature who gives it nor the society it lives in. But is this true?


Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Durkheim, E. (2002). Suicide: A Study in Sociology (J. A. Spaulding & G. Simpson, Trans.; G. Simpson, Ed.). London: Routledge.

Ewing, K. P. (1990). The Illusion of Wholeness: Culture, Self, and the Experience of Inconsistency. Ethos (pp. 251-278).

Foucault, M., and Robert H. (1978). Right of Death and Power over Life. In the History of Sexuality Volume I, (pp. 135-50). New York: Pantheon Books.

Gupta, A. (2005). Kierkegaard’s Romantic Legacy: Two Theories of the Self. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

Kitanaka, J. (2008). Diagnosing Suicides of Resolve: Psychiatric Practice in Contemporary Japan. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry,32(2), 152-176. doi:10.1007/s11013-008-9087-1

Lindholm, C. (2001). Dialectic of Self and Others. In Culture and Identity: The History, Theory and Practice of Psychological Anthropology (pp. 205-229). One World Publisher.

Linos, N. (2010). Reclaiming the Social Body Through Self-directed Violence: Seeking Anthropological Understanding of Suicide Attacks. Anthropology Today,26(5), 8-12. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8322.2010.00756.x

Noon, G. (1978). On suicide. Journal of the History of Ideas,39(3), 371-386. Retrieved February 1, 2019, from

Scheper-Hughes, N., & Lock, M. M. (1987). The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly,1(1), 6-41. doi:10.1525/maq.1987.1.1.02a00020

Stevenson, L. (2014). Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Swingewood, A. (2000). Critique of Positivism I: Durkheim. In A Short History of Sociological Thought (3rd ed., pp. 57-80). United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Targum, S. D., MD, & Kitanaka, J., PhD. (2012). Overwork Suicide in Japan: A National Crisis. Innovation in Clinical Neuroscience,9(2), 35-38. Retrieved December 11, 2018.

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