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Reading Sri Lanka's suicide rate

Widger, Tom

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By the final decade of the twentieth century, rates of suicide in Sri Lanka ranked among the highest in the world. However, in 1996 the suicide rate began to fall and was soon at its lowest level in almost 30 years. This decline poses problems for classic sociological theories of suicide and forces us to question some fundamental assumptions underlying social scientific approaches to the suicide rate. Drawing from sociological, medical epidemiological, historical, and anthropological secondary sources as well as 21 months of original ethnographic research into suicide in Sri Lanka, I argue that there are four possible readings of the country's suicide rate. While the first three readings provide windows onto parts of the story, the fourth—a composite view—provides a new way of thinking about suicide, not just in Sri Lanka but also cross-culturally. In so doing the paper poses questions for how the relationship between suicide and society might be imagined.


Widger, T. (2014). Reading Sri Lanka's suicide rate. Modern Asian Studies, 48(03), 791-825.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 30, 2013
Publication Date May 1, 2014
Deposit Date Oct 17, 2014
Publicly Available Date Mar 3, 2015
Journal Modern Asian Studies
Print ISSN 0026-749X
Electronic ISSN 1469-8099
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 48
Issue 03
Pages 791-825


Accepted Journal Article (556 Kb)

Copyright Statement
© Copyright Cambridge University Press 2013. This paper has been published in a revised form subsequent to editorial input by Cambridge University Press in 'Modern Asian Studies' (48: 03 (2014) 791-825)

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