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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Tom Widger

Widger, Tom (2015). Suicide and the 'Poison Complex': Toxic Relationalities, Child Development, and the Sri Lankan Self-Harm Epidemic. Medical Anthropology 34(6): 501-516.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Suicide prevention efforts in Asia have increasingly turned to ‘quick win’ means restriction, while more complicated cognitive restriction and psychosocial programmes are limited. This paper argues the development of cognitive restriction programmes requires greater consideration of suicide methods as social practices, and of how suicide cognitive schemata form. To illustrate this, the paper contributes an ethnographically grounded study of how self-poisoning becomes cognitively available in Sri Lanka. I argue the overwhelming preference for poison as a method of self-harm in the country is not simply reflective of its widespread availability, but rather how cognitive schemata of poison – a ‘poison complex’ – develops from early childhood and is a precondition for suicide schemata. Limiting cognitive availability thus requires an entirely novel approach to suicide prevention that draws back from its immediate object (methods and causes of self-harm) to engage the wider poison complex of which suicide is just one aspect.