Suicide and Agency : Anthropological Perspectives on Self-Destruction, Personhood, and Power book cover
1st Edition

Suicide and Agency
Anthropological Perspectives on Self-Destruction, Personhood, and Power

ISBN 9780367597580
Published June 30, 2020 by Routledge
240 Pages

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Book Description

Suicide and Agency offers an original and timely challenge to existing ways of understanding suicide. Through the use of rich and detailed case studies, the authors assembled in this volume explore how interplay of self-harm, suicide, personhood and agency varies markedly across site (Greenland, Siberia, India, Palestine and Mexico) and setting (self-run leprosy colony, suicide bomb attack, cash-crop farming, middle-class mothering). Rather than starting from a set definition of suicide, they empirically engage suicide fields-the wider domains of practices and of sense making, out of which realized, imaginary, or disputed suicides emerge. By drawing on ethnographic methods and approaches, a new comparative angle to understanding suicide beyond mainstream Western bio-medical and classical sociological conceptions of the act as an individual or social pathology is opened up. The book explores a number of ontological assumptions about the role of free will, power, good and evil, personhood, and intentionality in both popular and expert explanations of suicide. Suicide and Agency offers a substantial and ground-breaking contribution to the emerging field of the anthropology of suicide. It will appeal to a range of scholars and students, including those in anthropology, sociology, social psychology, cultural studies, suicidology, and social studies of death and dying.

Table of Contents

Part I Introduction: The anthropology of suicide: ethnography and the tension of agency, Daniel Münster and Ludek Broz. Part II Suicide, Personhood and Relationality: Personhood, agency and suicide in a neo-liberalizing South India, James Staples; The lonely un-dead and returning suicide in northwest Greenland, Janne Flora; Between demons and disease: suicide and agency in Yucatan, Mexico, Beatriz M. Reyes-Foster; Four funerals and a wedding: suicide, sacrifice, and (non-)human agency in a Siberian village, Ludek Broz. Part III Self-Destruction and Power: Bodies, Resistance and Crises: Farmers' suicide and the moral economy of agriculture: victimhood, voice, and agro-environmental responsibility in South India, Daniel Münster; Dying to live in Palestine: steadfastness, pollution and embodied space, Deen Sharp and Natalia Linos; Accumulating death: women’s moral agency and domestic economies of care in South India, Jocelyn Chua; Learning suicide and the limits of agency: children’s ‘suicide play’ in Sri Lanka, Tom Widger; Suicide, agency and the limits of power, Katrina Jaworski. Part IV Afterword: Afterword: taking relationality to extremes, Marilyn Strathern

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Ludek Broz is a researcher at the Institute of Ethnology, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic. Daniel Münster is a junior research group leader in the cluster of excellence 'Asia and Europe in a Global Context' at Heidelberg University, Germany.


This volume makes an important contribution to scholarship on agency in suicide. It offers ethnographic perspectives that complicate mainstream understandings around the transculturally persistent practice of self-killing. However, as it describes living through and with suicide, it adds more. As Strathern notes in her afterword, this volume not only contributes to understanding suicide and agency through local ontologies, but also shows how suicide tells us about aspects of social life.
C.M. Cassady Wayne State University, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI), 2018