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Abstract

There has been a considerable sociological interest in suicide, but accidents have attracted little theoretical study. This paper is concerned with the ways in which some fatalities are classified as ‘accidental death’ through the processes of the Coroner's Court. Critiques of the positivist tradition in suicide research are taken as a departure to examine the role of the Coroner in the classification of some deaths as accidental. The modern English Coroner has two functions, neutral fact-finding for the state and moral amelioration, which are in potential conflict during an inquest. There is no official definition of an ‘accidental death’: such events are produced through a moral analysis of the facts surrounding a death and through the resulting process of demarcating them from other, more culpable, deaths.