Dying at the Margins: A critical exploration of Material-Discursive Perspectives to Death and Dying
Death is often assumed to arrive when heart and lungs stop. Yet, sometimes the borders between life and death are unclear. Death, then, may get interrupted, delayed, or come undone, disrupting the “natural” and “normal” forms of a “good” death. We acknowledge such disruptions as material and discursive; that is, bodies, minds, geographies, stories, and more act to challenge human perspectives on how people, animals, plants, or things ought to die and where and how the dead ought to be laid to rest. Suddenly, what seemed coherent no longer is, in the breakdown or dissolution of that which is dying but also in the way one orders worlds and afterworlds.
This workshop, thus, seeks to explore socio-ecological networks of the dying and dead that exist at the margins. We see tantalizing glimpses of this endeavor in the work of Achille Mbembe’s notion of “necro-politics” that explores the instrumentalization and material destruction of the human, Philip R. Olson’s “necro-waste” that looks at the human body as a form of material waste, and Joshua Reno’s work on the biosemiotics of shit as a “sign of life.” Such work invites us to pursue and further identify ways to explore and establish connections between dying and death from perspectives that refute a nature/culture binary—to ask questions such as:
- What boundary work takes place to construct and maintain the categories of alive, not-alive, dead, dying, and undead for places, objects, and beings?
- How do states and processes of acquiescing to, existing in between, manipulating, or overcoming life and/or death affect normative assumptions about dying and death?
- What might it mean to reconfigure human understanding of death to a more ecological frame that accommodates more-than-human lives and/or deep time?
- How might the memories, spirits, or spiritualities related to the dead and dying limit, expand, or explode a material-discursive frame?
- How do such challenges alter ethical approaches or values attached to dying and death?
Through this workshop, we hope to build a bridge between scholars working in the medical and environmental humanities and the social sciences, providing a venue to put into conversation research that explores how dying “bodies”—animal (including human), plant, thing, place—challenge natural, normative, and notions of a “good” death. We encourage applications from scholars whose research practices consider feminist and queer studies, new materialism and waste, plant and animal studies, non-western or indigenous studies, and/or death studies.