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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Tom Widger

Widger, Tom (2018). Suicides, poisons and the materially possible: The positive ambivalence of means restriction and critical–critical global health. Journal of Material Culture 23(4): 396-412.

Author(s) from Durham


Developing an object-oriented perspective on suicide, in this article the author challenges critical global health scholarship and sociological theories of ambivalence by showing how a focus on ‘materially possible’ suicide prevention can offer culturally relevant solutions to a suicide epidemic in a resource-poor setting. Taking the example of pesticide regulation in Sri Lanka, he demonstrates why, in theoretical terms, banning toxic pesticides has coherence in a local poison complex that renders suicide available to people as a cultural practice. While writers in the field of critical global health have been suspicious of ‘magic-bullet’ interventions such as means restriction because such policies reportedly overlook the social complexity of problems such as suicide, the author argues that what is materially possible is often of merit because it renders graspable an otherwise deeply contingent and variegated problem. He further argues that critical global health can view the ambivalent costs and benefits of materially possible, magic-bullet interventions as a positive rather than negative offshoot of global health.