Cetin, U. (2015). Durkheim, ethnography and suicide: Researching young male suicide in the transnational London Alevi-Kurdish community. Ethnography. doi:10.1177/1466138115586583
This study of the unusually high incidence of young male suicides in the transnational Alevi-Kurdish community in London demonstrates the benefits of combining a Durkheimian structural approach with a qualitatively driven ethnographic methodology. Examination of the life experiences of those who committed suicide is located within the underlying social organization of the transnational community in which the suicides occurred, enabling us to explore unanticipated events that render certain groups more at risk of committing suicide. Interviews with significant others facilitated a deeper understanding of the personal life paths of those who committed suicide. The suicide cases followed a particular assimilation trajectory that gradually positioned them in a ‘rainbow underclass’, an anomic social position leading to suicide. Despite the sensitivity of the subject, participants appreciated the opportunity to discuss their experience frankly and contribute towards a better understanding of the underlying causes in a desperate attempt to prevent further suicides.
Niezen, R. (2014). The Durkheim-Tarde debate and the social study of aboriginal youth suicide. Transcultural psychiatry, 52(1): 96-114. doi:10.1177/1363461514557560
A debate that took place in France in the early 20th century still has much to tell us about the interpretation and strategies of intervention of suicide, particularly the “cohort effect” of aboriginal youth suicide. The act of suicide, for Durkheim, was inseparable from the problem of social cohesion, with extremes in solidarity and regulation predictably reflected in high rates of suicide. For Gabriel Tarde, by contrast, suicide was seen as an outcome of changeable ideas found in processes of innovation and imitation among creatively receptive individuals. This latter approach remains overlooked in favor of a growing reliance on conceptions of historical trauma and conditions of social disintegration. Recognizing the idea of suicide itself as a potential locus of solidarity opens up other possibilities for responding to and intervening in suicide crises or “clusters.”
Reading Sri Lanka’s Suicide Rate
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.