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Suicide in Sri Lanka: The anthropology of an epidemic

Widger, Tom

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Why people kill themselves remains an enduring and unanswered question. With a focus on Sri Lanka, a country that for several decades has reported ‘epidemic’ levels of suicidal behaviour, this book develops a unique perspective linking the causes and meanings of suicidal practices to social processes across moments, lifetimes and history. Extending anthropological approaches to practice, learning and agency, anthropologist Tom Widger draws from long-term fieldwork in a Sinhala Buddhist community to develop an ethnographic theory of suicide that foregrounds local knowledge and sets out a charter for prevention. The book highlights the motives of children and adults becoming suicidal and how certain gender, age, class relationships and violence are prone to give rise to suicidal responses. By linking these experiences to emotional states, it develops an ethnopsychiatric model of suicide rooted in social practice. Widger then goes on to examine how suicides are resolved at village and national levels, tracing the roots of interventions to the politics of colonial and post-colonial social welfare and health regimes. Exploring local accounts of suicide as both ‘evidence’ for the suicide epidemic and as an ‘ethos’ of suicidality shaping subjective worlds, Suicide in Sri Lanka shows how anthropological analysis can offer theoretical as well as policy insights. With the inclusion of straightforward summaries and implications for prevention at the end of each chapter, this book has relevance for specialists and non-specialists alike. It represents an important new contribution to South Asian Studies, Social Anthropology and Medical Anthropology, as well as to cross-cultural Suicidology.


Widger, T. (2015). Suicide in Sri Lanka: The anthropology of an epidemic. Routledge.

Book Type Authored Book
Online Publication Date Nov 18, 2014
Publication Date Jan 1, 2015
Deposit Date Oct 17, 2014
Publicly Available Date Jan 3, 2017
Publisher Routledge
Series Title Routledge contemporary South Asia series
Publisher URL


Accepted Book (473 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is an Accepted Manuscript of the Preface and Chapter 1 published by Routledge in Suicide in Sri Lanka : the anthropology of an epidemic 18 November 2014, available online:

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