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Documenting the quick and the dead: a study of suicide case files in a coroner's office


  • Susanne Langer,

  • Jonathan Scourfield,

  • Ben Fincham


In keeping with recent critiques of literature on the body and the life course, the argument of this paper is that social identities can, to a certain extent, be constructed post-mortem and in the absence of a living body. The authors make this case with reference to a sociological autopsy study of a hundred suicide case files in a coroner's office in a medium-sized British city. The research draws on ethnographic approaches to the study of documents. There is discussion of some of the diverse artefacts in the coroners' files: medical reports, witness statements and suicide notes. The identity work revealed in these sources is as much about the living as the dead and is especially bound up in the process of avoiding blame.

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