Guest Editorial

Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 183-203

First online:

Situating Suicide as an Anthropological Problem: Ethnographic Approaches to Understanding Self-Harm and Self-Inflicted Death

  • James StaplesAffiliated withBrunel University Email author 
  • , Tom WidgerAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex


More than a century after Durkheim’s sociological classic placed the subject of suicide as a concern at the heart of social science, ethnographic, cross-cultural analyses of what lie behind people’s attempts to take their own lives remain few in number. But by highlighting how the ethnographic method privileges a certain view of suicidal behaviour, we can go beyond the limited sociological and psychological approaches that define the field of ‘suicidology’ in terms of social and psychological ‘pathology’ to engage with suicide from our informants’ own points of view—and in so doing cast the problem in a new light and new terms. In particular, suicide can be understood as a kind of sociality, as a special kind of social relationship, through which people create meaning in their own lives. In this introductory essay we offer an overview of the papers that make up this special issue and map out the theoretical opportunities and challenges they present.