Mutuality and the study of suicide: Psychological notions on military suicides in Israeli courts

Nitzan Rothem, Eyal Ben-Ari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article addresses the complementary work of psychological notions and courts in handling suicides occurring in the course of military service. We suggest the category of mutuality between individuals and social settings as an analytic perspective for the study of suicide, illuminating not only how suicide is constructed, but also theorizing the effects of this construction. Our findings rest on content analysis of 34 verdicts on cases of suicide occurring within the Israeli military. In these verdicts, mostly issued to resolve disputes between bereaved parents and state authorities, Israeli courts decided on the causes of death and the responsibilities of the military and state for soldiers’ suicides. Courts base their decisions on the ambiguous psychological concept of suicidal individuals, explaining self-demise as the result of an internal malaise and avoid addressing the coercive circumstances within which Israeli soldiers operate. By conclusively linking self-demise to suicidality, courts produce an idea of death-seeking soldiers, who fail to ensure their own well-being as well as to defend the common good. Courts render the difficulties encountered during military service mental and personal, thereby contracting, standardizing, and individualizing the idea of mutuality between soldiers, families, and state. To explain these repercussions of juridification and psychologization processes, we draw attention to Durkheim’s conceptualization of contractual obligations and non-contractual sentiments. We elaborate on the Durkheimian connection between solidarity and suicide, by highlighting the outcomes of their interrelated management, especially the courts’ shaping of thin mutuality when arbitrating suicide disputes. Adopting psychological reasoning and assessing personal responsibility, courts potentially fail in their constitutive role of discussing matters of collective concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1282-1299
Number of pages18
JournalSociological Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • Durkheim
  • law
  • military suicide
  • non-contractual relations
  • psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Mutuality and the study of suicide: Psychological notions on military suicides in Israeli courts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this