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Talk: Network Science Talk Series: The Sociocultural Foundations of Suicide Diffusion in a Cohesive Community

Monday, Dec 4th 2017 at 03:00 PM
IMU, Dogwood Room

Join us for a Network Science Series Talk by Anna Mueller (University of Chicago). Co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology.

Monday, Dec 4 at 3 pm, IMU Dogwood Room. Reception following.  

The Sociocultural Foundations of Suicide Diffusion in a Cohesive Community

Abstract: Though it is broadly acknowledged that social networks facilitate the diffusion of attitudes, behaviors and innovations, we know less about the sociocultural foundations of this diffusion. With this study, I illustrate how insights from cultural sociology can be used to better understand how diffusion occurs. To do this, I leverage the unique case of suicide diffusion in adolescence and data from an ethnographic study of a socially-cohesive community with an enduring youth suicide problem, including repeated suicide clusters (N=117). Ultimately, I find that a series of sudden, shocking, suicide deaths of high-status youth triggered the formation of new locally-generalized meanings for suicide which diffused through social networks and became available, taken-for-granted social facts. The new meanings reinterpreted broadly shared adolescent experiences (e.g., exposure to pressure) as causes of suicide and facilitated youth’s ability to imagine suicide as something someone like them could do to escape. I conclude by discussing the implications of this study for theories of diffusion and for leveraging network science to improve public health interventions. 

 Bio: Anna S. Mueller is an assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development and the College at the University of Chicago. She is also affiliated with the Department of Sociology, the Population Research Center, and the Masters in Computational Social Science Program.  She received her BA in economics and gender studies from Wellesley College in 2002 and her PhD in sociology (with a traineeship in social demography) in 2011 from the University of Texas at Austin. Broadly speaking, Mueller’s research examines how social relationships and social contexts shape adolescent health and wellbeing over the transition to adulthood, with a focus on adolescent suicidality. Her research emphasizes why and how suicidal behaviors and emotional distress spread between individuals using insights from social psychology, cultural sociology, sociology of emotions and social network theories. She is also interested in how schools, as social organizations, shape social relationships and opportunities to learn, thereby affecting the life chances of children both in terms of education and health. Her conceptual interests are matched by her methodological interests in social network analysis, multi-level modeling, and in-depth case studies of adolescent societies.

Mueller’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and her articles on suicide have received the Eliot Friedson Outstanding Publication Award (2015) from the Section on Medical Sociology of the American Sociological Association as well as best publication awards from the ASA Sections on Sociology of Mental Health (2015, 2017), Children & Youth (2015, 2017), and Emotions (2015). Her research can be read in the American Sociological ReviewJournal of Health and Social Behavior, Sociological TheorySocial Science & Medicine, American Journal of Sociology, and the American Journal of Public Health, among others. She teaches courses on sociology of health, medicine, mental health, education, children/youth, culture, gender, research methodology, and social statistics.