Year: 2012 Source: Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry.(2012).36(2):204-224. SIEC No: 20120036

In the south Indian state of Kerala, the nationÕs so-called suicide capital, suicide can often appear self-evident in meaning and motivation to casual onlookers and experts alike. Drawing on explanatory accounts, rumors, and speculative tales of suicide collected between 2004 and 2007, this article explores the ontological power of certain deaths to assert themselves as always-already known on the basis of perceived and reported demographic patterns of suicide. I demonstrate the ways suicides are commonly read, less through the distinct details of their individual case presentations than ÒupÓ to broader scales of social pathology. Shaped by the intertwined histories of public health intervention and state taxonomic knowledge in India, these Òepidemic readingsÓ of suicide enact a metonymy between individual suffering and ideas of collective decline that pushes the suicide case to fit, and thus to stand for, aggregate trends at the level of populations. Focusing on how family navigated the generic meanings and motivations ascribed to the deaths of their loved ones, I argue that the ability of kin to resist, collude with, or strategically deploy epidemic readings in their search for truth and closure hinged significantly on their classed fluency in the social, legal, and bureaucratic discourses of suicide.