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

Suicide and Agency

Anthropological Perspectives on Self-Destruction, Personhood, and Power, 1st Edition

Edited by Ludek Broz, Daniel Münster


240 pages

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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.


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

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

About the Editors

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.

About the Series

Studies in Death, Materiality and the Origin of Time

Studies in Death, Materiality and the Origin of Time

Eventually we all die - and we experience death head-on, when someone close to us dies. This series, Studies in Death, Materiality and the Origin of Time, identifies this fact as constitutive of the origin of human conceptions of time. Time permeates everything, but except for time itself all things are perishable - yet, it is only through the perishable world of things and bodies that we sense time. Bringing together scholarly work across a range of disciplines, the series explores the fact that human experiences and conceptions of time inherently hinge on the material world, and that time as a socially experienced phenomenon cannot be understood as separate from material form or expression. As such, it departs from a persistent current within Western thinking. Philosophy, biology and physics, among other disciplines, have studied time as an essential, ethereal and abstract concept. In the same way, death has often been conceived of in abstract and sometimes transcendental terms as occupying one extreme margin of human life. As an alternative, this series examines the ways in which bodily death and material decay are central points of reference in social life, which offer key insights into human perceptions of time.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Death & Dying