Author:Andrew Irving (University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
Suicide raises fundamental questions about people's relationship to themselves and the world. Ethnography of suicide is fraught with ethical and practical difficulties. Here I try to understand the mind of a person about to attempt suicide through fieldwork, writing and creative visual practices.
Paper long abstract:
One of the most fundamental issues a person, group or society can face is suicide: a subject that raises critical questions about human nature, society and people's most basic relationships with others and the world. However ethnographic accounts of suicide are rare and what might constitute an ethnography of suicide or how anthropology might research or represent suicide is fraught with ethical and practical pitfalls.
In response, this paper attempts to understand the mind of someone about to attempt suicide—including the personal motivations, religious doubts and existential dilemmas someone undergoes—by considering three modes of collaborative and co-creative practice. The first is fieldwork and the second is ethnographic writing. The third, which will be elaborated on and forms the main content of the presentation, is that of artistic re-enactment and adaption in the form of a theatre and television piece that I developed with theatre director Josh Azouz and producer Don Boyd based on ethnographic research. The resulting work, "The Man Who Almost Killed Himself" was shown at the Edinburgh Festival, on BBC Arts and cinemas nationwide.
In engaging with actors and directors, alongside theatre, broadcast and cinema audiences, I argue (following Sartre) that a distinct form of collaborative consciousness emerges that encompasses both the act of imagining and the diverse worlds the imagination brings into being between artists and audience and that new forms of anthropological knowledge, evidence and understanding emerge through the process of adaptation and co-creation that otherwise would not be realised.
Materialising the Imagination: How People Make Ideas Manifest