"Doctoral Dissertation Research: A Critical Investigation of the Factors that Influence the Collection of Suicide Surveillance Data"

Project: Research project

Project Details


Doctoral Dissertation Research: A Critical Investigation of Suicide Surveillance Data: Exploring the Institutional and Cultural Shaping of Death in Nepal

Project Summary: The objective of this research is to apply a critical medical anthropology approach to current institutional discourse on suicide in Nepal in order to gain insight into how constructions of personhood and death are shaped by and constituent of powerful political, moral, and gendered structures. Specifically, the research will examine how institutionalized documentation, labeling practices, and communication practices perpetuate power structures and privilege particular groups through homogenizing categories of behavior and mortality. In 2009, the Nepal Maternal Morbidity Survey reported that suicide is the leading single cause of death among women of reproductive age. This has led to mobilization of national and international resources to address suicide among women. However, further investigations suggest wide institutional variation in the discourse used to define, describe, and attribute causes to suicides. The heterogeneity of what is captured as suicide within different institutions gets falsely homogenized and aggregated at the national level. Data are constructed and endorsed, rejected, or lost at junctures between family-community, medical-legal, and national-international levels. The study will contribute to the cultural anthropological corpus by expanding theories related to suicide, knowledge production, and the institutional shaping of local lived experiences. The research will include a discourse tracing of suicide definitions, reporting, and documentation in law enforcement, health, and community institutions. Looking from the margins towards centers of power, these findings may explicate how institutional information proceeds from community to international levels, ultimately reasserting authority over death. International funding and priorities drive documentation practices and dictate what local categories of experience are counted and thus valued, rather than documenting local problems to drive funding priorities. A cultural anthropological perspective is well suited to untangle the process and effects of knowledge production through the following research questions: (1)What are the material, social, and cultural factors that shape the understanding of suicidal acts in Nepal?(2) How do institutions communicate, contest, and negotiate suicide documentation? And (3) what are the transactions (or lack thereof) between communities and institutions that lead to points of convergence and divergence between institutional suicide data and community reports?
Intellectual Merit: This study seeks to bring anthropological insight into power and public health practices using suicide as a lens for how mortality statistics are produced and used by various institutions. The work will expand contributions to the subfields of critical medical anthropology, knowledge production and anthropological demography. Specifically, the project will extend Eriksons theory of knowledge production, the use of institutional ethnography and discourse analysis to shed light on how the institional prioritization and categorization of suicide shapes constructions of personhood and death at multiple social (professional, individual, familial) and institutional (macro, meso, micro) levels. Additionally, we will bring anthropological perspectives into the literature on suicide, currently dominated psychology and sociology, in order to build more meaningful and relevant theories of suicide across cultures. By bridging the distinct approaches of anthropology and public health, we will empirically illustrate institutional, cultural, and political influences on mortality data.
Broader Impacts: The project contributes to the training of a female doctoral student and will support the training and research experience of local Nepali collaborators. It will improve local and international understandings of suicide and suicidal behavior in Nepal, where suicide is reported to be the leading cause of death amongst women. Local organizations (TPO-Nepal and Tribhuvan Hospital) and institutions (Nepali Police, Ministry of Health) will collaborate closely in the dissemination of findings. This project will speak to many international human rights organizations and activist entities, as well as academic researchers that are interested in ethnographic research in communities' dealings with life and death, including suicide. Finally, the Co-PI co-founded an organization, GlobeMed, that trains thousands of undergraduates in ethical global health engagement. She will use this platform to bring her research into the classroom to engage students in complex problem analysis and anthropology.
Effective start/end date2/15/157/31/16


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $24,457.00


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