Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Alyson Cole

Committee Members

Paisley Currah

Nancy K. Miller

Subject Categories

Disability Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Political Theory


suicide, queer suicidality, biopolitics, queer theory, Foucault, autotheory


This dissertation explores the psychic effects of a life haunted by proximity to suicide. Beginning with demographic data indicating that the queer community has experienced disproportionately high rates of suicide in the U.S. since nationwide data collection began in the 1960s, my dissertation’s argument is twofold. First, suicidality shapes the experience of being queer. Second, the queer community’s history of association with suicide has shaped its relationship to death and morbidity. Therefore, in order to better address the issue of suicide in the community, a new approach is required that considers this history’s entanglement with systemic power relations and the individuated experiences of those in the community who deal with suicidality. It deploys methodologies from political theory, specifically, Foucauldian genealogy, as well as literary studies to theorize an approach to suicide that moves beyond a pathology-focused model.

This dissertation contributes to conversations in political theory and interdisciplinary queer and sexuality studies. Youth suicide is not a new topic in the field of queer studies—Eve Sedgwick goes so far as to state that it is a topic that haunts the discipline—but I aim to transform it from a subject that haunts into one that can offer transformative possibilities for queer political futures. I address the fact that despite more social acceptance of queerness and improved rights for LGBT people, their suicide rates have not declined as one would expect. I argue that biopolitical imperatives that violently drive certain populations toward life or death are responsible. In advancing this argument, I contribute to the field of political theory a renewed analysis of biopolitical population categories in the 21st century, which I argue move beyond Foucault’s initial formulation of “make live” and “let die.” Its future significance lies in the foundations it builds for continued analysis of the politics of identity formation among pathologized populations through the lens of contemporary political theory.

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