Accepted paper:

Passing the buck: Suicide, Shame and the shifting of status in southern Sri Lanka


Maurice Said (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the effects of youth suicides on kin networks and shows how youth suicides act as a form of symbolic violence, playing an integral role in local definitions of shame and moral integrity, as well as acting as a tool for the shifting of status.

Paper long abstract:

This paper shows how successful youth suicides and attempted suicides in the south of Sri Lanka are utilised as tools against an oppressive and limiting kinship structure. The majority of youth suicides in southern Sri Lanka are aimed at disempowering close kin and publicly challenge the moral authority of the kin network, resulting in cleavages in the local distribution of power and status. The lack of official authority figures in a number of villages allows for the more 'dominant family network' to exert control and command authority over the community. The fluidity of status (nambuva) means that power may be won and lost easily and as a result, social networks are susceptible to significant structural changes over time. The forms of suicide, such as ingesting weed killer, span a long period of time and imbue the victim's family with shame, thus, questioning the moral integrity and boundedness of the family unit. Apart from physical violence, suicide acts as a form of symbolic violence that shifts the focus from the physical act to underlying themes of status, shame and moral representations. Through the use of three contrasting case studies involving: a young couple from rival families, a domestic argument between a young man and his spouse, and a young woman in a post-tsunami IDP camp, I will illustrate how youth suicides bring to the fore internal tensions in the family and reveal local interpretations of shame and moral integrity.

panel P12
The aesthetics of suicide