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Self-harm and self-inflicted death amongst Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka: An ethnographic study.

Widger, Tom (2009) Self-harm and self-inflicted death amongst Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka: An ethnographic study. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).

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Abstract

Suicidal behaviour has long been observed to occur at unusually high rates in Sri Lanka. In this thesis, the results of twenty-one months' ethnographic, clinical, and archival research into the social-structural, interpersonal, and psychopathological contexts of self-harm and self-inflicted death are presented. The thesis argues that acts of self-harm and self-inflicted death amongst Sinhalese Buddhists in the Madampe Division, northwest Sri Lanka, reflect the kinship structure. In turn, the kinship structure can be understood as a reflection of several hundred years' political economic change. Within this, suicidal behaviour can be viewed as a manifestation of three key issues: (1) the question of the 'inevitability' of kinship; (2) the ability of individuals to respond to their problems through other means; and (3) the political economic status of individuals within the social structure that defines that ability as well as psychological experience and response. I argue that when moral codes of kinship are brought into question and the individual finds him- or her-self accused of shameful behaviour, suicidal behaviour becomes more likely. In this context, suicidal behaviour stands as a denial of sociality, as a means by which the fundamental premise of shame can be rejected. Comparing two communities in the Madampe Division, I demonstrate how wider economic and social changes over the past couple hundred years have today manifested different structures and ideologies of caste, class, marriage, kinship, personhood, and religion in each. Given the highly localised specificity of such structures and ideologies, as well as their attendant psychological states, I am concerned to explain how Division-wide epidemiologies of self-harm and self-inflicted death mask various underlying problems and pathways to self-harm and suicide amongst groups of demographically similar people. In this way, I argue that suicidal behaviour reflect material relations and their idealisations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Anthropology, Cultural, South Asian Studies, Religion, General
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses
Departments > Anthropology
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/2554

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