Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 10 Issue 3 (May/June 2000), Pages 171-251

A last defence: the negotiation of blame within suicide notes (pages 225-240)


This paper presents a discursive analysis of 172 suicide notes left by 120 suicide victims. Instead of searching for the underlying psychological reasons for suicide in the content of notes, we argue that such notes should be viewed as acts of communication which serve to manage the blame accorded to both author and recipients of the suicide note. Consequently notes may provide evidence of socially shared beliefs as to when suicide is more or less acceptable. The analysis largely confirms this approach. It is found that matters relating to blame are referred to more frequently than any other issue (87% of notes). The precise arguments which are used to justify the actions of both self and others are then described in detail and some evidence is provided that the nature of these arguments may vary as a function of the social position of the author and also the identity of the recipient. The implications of these findings, and for a general use of a discursive approach to suicide, are then discussed. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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