A. History of Death and Dying Studies
1) Hertz, Robert. 1960  Death and the Right Hand. London: Cohen and West.
Hertz considers “society" and "collective representations" as epistemologically and methodologically central in his analysis of death. He focuses on long-term social values and how they were related to concrete individuals. He mainly shows this by studying death and funeral rites. Hertz reflects on two main arguments, one social and the other psychological. In social terms, he understands society in the same way as Durkheim, that it is a separate entity, which considers itself to be immortal, going beyond the lives of any individual members. In this way, members of society never die but alter their relative relationships as they shift from being living members of society to its dead "members." In psychological terms, Hertz considers the relationship between the living members and the dead, and the experience of both grief and mourning. Social and psychological aspects though, are symbolically connected to the changing state of the dead body. Hertz understands the human body as an instrument preserving and expressing social values, even after its death. Consequently, the main focus of his study is what he calls as "double-burial" (or wet and dry burials), and he uses ethnographic data from very different societies. The first burial is often associated with temporary earth burial (or in pots and other containers). This phase is related to the rotting corpse, and in social terms was the time when the identity of the dead was progressively detached from his or her previous living identity (often the corpse is taken far from the community). In psychological terms, during this phase the living survivors suffered the grief and pain of separation and might have experienced a sense of abjection to the dead. The second burial is related to the clean bones and integrates the dead into their new identity in the afterlife. At this point in time, a new sense of "reverent courage" might substitute aversion among the surviving kin. His emphasis on change and integration prefigures van Gennep's classic idea of rites of passage. Hertz's impact augmented significantly in the developing literature on death studies since the 1980s. It is worth noting Hertz believes that children’s death triggers minimal social reaction for the “collective consciousness”. It doesn’t seem like a real death because they have not yet properly entered into society. In the case of newborn babies, the social reaction is even weaker. He calls it an “infra-social event”; because society has not given anything of itself to the baby, its disappearance remains indifferent.
2) van Gennep, Arnold. 1960 . The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
This is a classic piece of anthropological work; from van Gennep’s The rites of passage, Victor Turner created the Ndembu ritual analysis and his liminal phases of separation, liminal state, and re-integration. In this study van Gennep examines funeral rituals all over the world. He shows how these rituals vary widely among different peoples and depending on sex, age, and social position of the deceased. Mourning, for van Gennep, is a complex phenomenon, a transitional phase for the survivors filled with taboos and different kinds of practices. van Gennep finds three types of rituals according to the three phases: rituals of separation (preliminary), transitional rituals (liminaire), and rituals of reincorporation (postliminaire). These rituals depend on the closeness of social ties to the deceased and on the social status of the dead person. Interestingly for my own research, “children who have not yet been incorporated into the society of the living cannot be classified in that of the dead. Thus, for Catholics, children who die without baptism remain in the transition zone, or limbo, forever; the corpse of a semicivilized infant not yet named is buried without the usual ceremonies, thrown away, or burned, especially if the people in question think that he did not yet possess a soul” (152-3). In many different societies it is conceived that the deceased must make a trip, and so his/her survivors need to provide the deceased all the necessary material objects as well as those of a magic-religious nature that will ensure his or her journey will be safe and that the deceased will be well received.
3) Freud, Sigmund. 1955 (1917). Mourning and Melancholia, XVII (2nd ed.). London: Hogarth Press.
In “Mourning and Melancholia,” Freud initially describes the melancholic’s inability to “get beyond” loss in considerably negative terms. In this essay, Freud lays out the challenging idea that in melancholia “the shadow of the object fell upon the ego” (249). In most Freudian work, it is the ego that holds sway; the ego’s narcissism reigns supreme. In the transferential aspects of melancholic identification, Freud suggests, “is the expression of there being something in common which may signify love” (250). The melancholic process is one way in which socially disparaged objects live on in the psychic sphere. This behavior, Freud notes, proceeds from an attitude of ‘rebellion’ on the part of the ego. It displays the ego’s melancholic, nonetheless radical, negation to permit certain objects to disappear into unconsciousness. In this way, “by tacking flight into the ego, love escapes extinction” (257). This safeguarding of the endangered object might be considered as an ethical claim on the part of the melancholic ego. However, the mourner, in contrast, has no such ethics. The mourner is absolutely at ease with destroying the lost object, announcing it to be dead yet again within the realm of the psyche.
4) Ariés, Philippe. 1987 . The Hour of Our Death. London: Penguin.
For Ariés there is a relationship between man’s attitudes toward death and his awareness of self. But it is not the only important relationship. Ariés finds four interrelated themes: awareness of the individual, defense of society against untamed nature, belief in afterlife, and belief in the existence of evil. Ariés confronts these four themes with five models (tame death, the death of the self, remote and imminent death, the death of the other, and the invisible death) as variations and recombination of these themes on each model. In the tame death model, death was not personal but a tragedy for the community. Death remains a misfortune; suffering, sin, and death were part of the same conception of evil. The death of the self happened with a shift of the sense of destiny toward the individual. The split between a body that experienced pleasure or pain, and an immortal soul that was released by death is key in this model. Remote and imminent death marks the transformation of sensibility around CXVIII. In the modern era, death has become both remote and fascinating at the same time, imminent and desirable in an inseparable connection between love and death, fear and desire. Whereas the fourth model, the death of the other, is connected with the modern rise of privacy and intimacy, but death has now ceased to be sad and is exalted as a moment to be desired. But after the CXIX the “psychological landscape” was transformed and the four themes and the relationships among them were different. This brought a new moment, which Ariés called “invisible death”. In this phase the dying was protected from his own emotions “by concealing the seriousness of his condition until the end”. He would be told about his situation only if “the protection of the patient had to outweigh the joys of a last communication with him”. Death became hospitalized and medicalized, and thus the community felt less involved in the death of one of its members.
This is a classic work on the anthropology of death. This is a volume dedicated to studying death from different angles (philosophy, theology, social sciences, and medicine) and was edited by Psychologist Herman Feifel. The book is written in four major sections. The first part focuses on theoretical and philosophical facets of death. The second section addresses attitudes toward death at different periods of the life cycle. Maria Nagy, in the course of interviews with numerous children, clearly documents the child’s shifting notion of death. In the earliest phase, at three to five years, death is a temporary process, compared to sleep. From five to nine years, it is personified, and finally at nine to ten years, a realistic recognition of death as a final biological and personal phenomenon occurs. (Note: it seems to me this should be ethnographically contextualized rather than ideally formalized). Feifel shows attitudes of adults toward death, comparing mentally ill patients with “normal subjects,” and religious in contrast with non-religious persons. In regards to my own project it is interesting how Feifel analyzes the aged and the terminally ill patient; he cautiously concludes that the critically ill patient wishes to discuss his own death realistically. Despite the fact that he talks about death on an intellectual level, it seems that Feifel tends to play down the need for the denial coping mechanism and its significance to many patients in keeping their psychological balance. The third part focuses on the cultural notions of death in the twentieth century. Aronson, analyzing the care of the dying patient, shows from a psychiatric view how often professionals elude telling the patient anything likely to “provoke” serious psychopathology. He advises “supporting denial”; by preserving hope, if not of being well, at least of enjoying small daily hopes and desires, though never diminishing the gravity of the situation.
6) Ariés, Philippe. 1974. The Reversal of Death. American Quaterly 26:135-158. (1)
Ariès was very influential in the historization of the cultural practices and social attitudes toward death in the “western societies.” In the 1950’s he, among other scholars, started to write and study this “forbidden topic” and uncover taboos regarding death. Although criticized for using unreliable data, decontextualizing practices and giving too much emphasis to dubious sources, Ariès played a large role bringing insights and some kind of modelization to the historical transformations of the experience and perception of death. In “The Reversal of Death,” Ariès suggests a historical process in which, first, the dying person is excluded from his/her own experience of dying (“the new custom dictates that he die in ignorance,” p. 138) and never has to upset the living; second, the denial of mourning in two forms, the embalming and displaying of cadavers “as if” were almost-living person and the need to repress and not show any signal of grief in the survivors; and third, the invention of new funerary rites in U.S that conduces to the “elimination of death” leaving only the concrete burial itself. Ariès concludes that in the western modern world there is a prohibition surrounding death, which make it the central taboo in society, he says, “Thus, during the last third of a century, a major phenomenon has occurred that is only beginning to be perceived: death, that familiar friend, has disappeared from the language, its name has become taboo” (1974: 157). Although this simplistic draw could not fit in the complexities, contradictions, and multiple layers of social experience of the western modern life, it seems accurate as a general approximation. Many anthropologists and social scientists in general took these ideas of Ariès very seriously and tried to test them with some degree of success. It also happened that his translations into English came relatively fast, and that he became engaged with fruitful discussions with the British anthropologists Geoffrey Gorer, and the American Psychologist Herman Feifel, and French colleagues such as Foucault; all discussions that became part of his articles and books
7) Glaser, Barney and Straus, Anselm. 1965. Awareness of Dying. Chicago: Aldine.
In this study the authors show that the end of life had a course (“trajectory”), length and form according to the particular and contextual interactions of patients, family and the medical personnel (doctors and nurses). They also found that there is a set of implicit attitudes and behaviors; indeed, there is an “acceptable style of living while dying.” Patients usually know that they are dying, but they (and their families) are trapped in a web of bureaucratic disguises and normative responses. The institutions at the U.S. health system in which they worked show how medical enterprise and state formation are often inseparable in the creation of certain forms of dealing with death and dying. Glaser and Strauss find five types of awareness contexts in relation with terminally ill patients and their own dying: (1) closed awareness; (2) suspicion; (3) mutual pretense; (4) ambiguity of open awareness; and (5) underestimation of awareness. Strauss and Glaser inferred that the anticipation of death by both the dying and the relatives were crucial to conceiving the relations between those people and with medical professionals. Mortality was high and awareness low in certain places (premature babies at neonatology) but in other sites dying was slow and awareness of dying was high (oncology).
8) Armstrong, David. 1986. The Invention of Infant Mortality. Sociology of Health and Illness 8(3): 211-232.
This article outlines the initial “invention” of infant mortality in the U.K. in the nineteenth century as a socio-medical problem from the early form of problematicing infant death to the twentieth century when a slow but steady development created a series of classifications from ‘atrophy’ and debility to the modern ‘sudden infant death.’ In 1837, after the Registration Act, physicians had to register the ‘cause of death’ in the death certificate; no longer was death considered as coming from the outside (a “natural cause”), but instead it was a pathological cause which required further specification. It was not until 1877 that an infant mortality rate was given for the whole country. Armstrong argues “The creation of a specific mortality rate for infants at this time suggests both the emergence of a social awareness of these young deaths and, more importantly, the social recognition of the infant as a discrete entity” (212). In fact, infant mortality was a new object of social and medical interest. But how did this happen? According to Armstrong, until the end of the nineteenth century infant mortality was a problem of the biological realm; in the early twentieth century it became a problem of society. Infant mortality became a problem of personal and familiar hygiene, which demanded surveillance and intervention at a social level through a number of infant welfare schemes. The domestic realm was an object of public intervention. Housing, nutrition, hygiene, and poverty became the analytical lines through which the domestic was brought from the “private” into the “public” domain. Thus, “The relationship between infant and mother, both physiologically and psychologically, rapidly became entangled in the web of analyses which reconstructed domestic life and gave maternity and motherhood a new status and a new meaning” (213). By the early twentieth century infant mortality had become the central point on which the understanding of the social, the supervision of the new welfare schemes, the scrutiny of home life and hygiene, and the judgment of motherhood were articulated; in fact, infant mortality became “the most sensitive test of the health of communities” (214). The refinement of the identification and analysis of infant mortality was enhanced by two developments: the clarification of the status of the unborn fetus, and the partition of the first year of life into smaller analyzable factors. In addition, the emergence of pre-natal care and the legislation that compelled the presence of a doctor or midwife at all births guaranteed a continuity of medical surveillance and intervention. Furthermore, the medical profession needed to clearly distinguish stillbirth from miscarriages and abortions. By the 1930s stillbirths and neonatal mortality were differentiated from miscarriage and abortion. Then, by the 1950s a crucial distinction was made between early neonatal mortality (the first weeks) and late neonatal mortality. Only at that time did the sub-division of infancy take on its modern form. Stillbirths, perinatal, neo-natal, and infant deaths mapped out the first year of life for medicine. The importance of considering infancy as an effect as well as an object of the application of analytical techniques is shown through the changing dimensions of the conceptual space in which the infant was located during the twentieth century. Three dimensions appeared important in relation to the space of infant mortality: infant’s sex, difference between urban and rural spaces, and seasonal diseases such as diarrhea. The old classification of atrophy and decay were left behind for more social definitions. By 1948, in the 6th Revision of the International Classification of Disease, deaths were caused by ‘immaturity’, ‘nutritional maladjustment’ and ‘ill-defined’. By the second half of the twentieth century children became subjects of a normalizing gaze, where every infant was object of interrogation and intervention. In the context of post-World War II ‘sudden infant death’ became the ideal death; “the total unexplained death which allowed the full deployment of all the analytical explanatory strategies, physiological through to social, on the mysterious yet wholly impressionable body of the infant” (229).
9) Pernick, Martin. 1988. Back from the Grave: Recurring Controversies Over Defining and Diagnosing Death in History. In Richard Zaner, (ed.) Death: Beyond Whole-Brain Death Criteria. Dordrecht: Kluber Academic Publishers.
The allegedly modern trouble with the definition of death, and the need to determine the exact time of death is not new, it is part of a continuing process periodically invigorated with the discovery of new medical evidence (resuscitation, suspended animation, experimental vivisection). Pernick cites a 1940 article in Scientific American in which it was asserted that ‘frequent’ mistakes in diagnosing death were the causes of premature burial. For Pernick “from the very beginning of Western history, defining and diagnosing death proved both perplexing and controversial” (20). The author ends the article suggesting that the debate about death has been shaped not only by medical discoveries (and the fear of premature burial) but also, and even more importantly, by cultural values and the search for professional benefits, which in turn have excluded the possibility of a wide, rational and universally accepted definition of death.
10) Becker, Ernest. 1973. The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press.
According to Becker, heroism is above all a reflex of the terror of death. The major religions have all dealt with the same issue of how to bear the end of life. For Becker, there are two main arguments in relation to the pervasive fear of death. The “healthy-minded argument” says that fear is cultural; it is an idea that gradually develops in the child’s mind. This argument says that the anxiety of what psychologists call as object-loss is created by society. The “morbidly-minded argument” says that fear of death is natural and is present in everyone. Although most people think fear of death rarely shows, this argument says that underneath all appearances fear of death is universally present. Becker argues that fear of death is an expression of the instinct of self-preservation, which is a drive to maintain life against dangers that threaten it. We can intellectually know we will die but we don’t care; for Becker this means that the affect of fear is repressed. Humankind has turned into “a hyperanxious animal who constantly invents reasons for anxiety even where there are none”. A child’s perception of the world is confused; he does not recognize cause-effect relationships and the limits to his powers. He is a magician who only has to mumble and to imagine and the world turns to his desires. But he also directs destructive feelings towards his parents and others, so he is confused by feelings of guilt and helplessness. His immature ego is a source of fear: he doesn’t manage his perception and relationship with the world; he can’t control his activities or others’ activities. For Becker the “disappearance” of the fear of death happens because of the repression of the complex symbol of death, but the fear or terror of death lies underneath all the time.
11) Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1954 (1925). Magic, Science and Religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Death has been central to all religion, and attitudes towards death have been studied all over the world. But death has always represented pious love of the dead and horror/fear for the corpse. For Malinowski the mourning rituals that he studied show this two-fold contradictory tendency of preserving the body and destroying the body, a continuum that goes from mummification to burning. In relation to the rituals, Malinowski says, “Yet the mortuary ritual compels man to overcome the repugnance, to conquer his fears, to make piety and attachment triumphant, and with it the belief in a future life, in the survival of the spirit”. This idea in the spirit shows that the “savage” is intensely afraid of death. But this notion is also traversed by the double-edged play of hope and fear in the face of death: hope of continued life and fear of annihilation. The belief in spirits is the result of the belief in immortality. The death of a man or woman in a “primitive society” is an important event because the community is mutilated. It threatens the “cohesion and solidarity of the group”. There are two types of responses, either to give in to fear and horror by running away from the village and abandoning the corpse, or to produce more cohesion of the group, which depends on the organization of the society. Finally, Malinowski finds two forces working through death: centrifugal forces (fear, horror, and annihilation) and centripetal forces (hope, life after death, and reintegration).
12) Fabian, Johannes. 1973. How Others Die: Reflections on the Anthropology of Death. In Death in American Experience. Arien Mack, (ed.) Pp. 177-201. New York: Schocken.
In 1973, in a pioneer work, Fabian asked himself and the discipline: Why do anthropologists not speak about death? According to Fabian several causes were at the center of this absence: studies of death have been parochial, exotic, and in relation to others. However, Fabian disagrees, because he says “Even among the most primitive peoples, attitudes towards death is infinitely more complex, and, I may add, more akin to our own, than is usually assumed”. Fabian considers that only studies of behavior towards death and how it affects survivors were conducted in the past, and this means that they were studies of “how others die”. Instead of being a spectator, Fabian suggests we must subjectively participate in the social realities we study, and redirect our efforts not only to “they” but also to “us”. Death experiences are processes, insofar they are “productive ‘constructions of reality’ rather than disembodied schemes of logic or social control”. Fabian proposes three directions in which further study on the anthropology of death may proceed: 1) A processual, constitutive view of culture and, of cultural conceptions of, and reactions to, death; 2) A dialectical model of socio-cultural reality; and 3) A communicative approach to ethnographic reality. Ultimately, Fabian’s goal is to rethink our effort and to come up with a new anthropology of death that will ask, “How we die”.
13) Palgi, Phyllis and Henry Abramovicth. 1984. Death: A Cross-cultural Perspective. Annual Review of Anthropology 13:385-417.
Palgi and Abramovitch say at the beginning of this article, “Death awareness is a natural sequel to the development of self-awareness–an intrinsic attribute to humankind” (385). But when reading through the anthropological literature the focus is on the bereaved and on the corpse but never on the dying. The authors show how Fabian (1973) clearly demonstrated how the study of death, similarly to the notion of culture, has undergone a process of parochialization, which as a consequence has eliminated a universal notion of the problem leaving anthropology deprived of theoretical conceptions that could help us to face the subject of death. According to the authors, Fabian therefore claims it was inexorable that the studies dealt with “how others die”, and at a safe distance from one’s own society. Death in the Western world has become a private affair and so it influences death anxieties and certain reluctance to “intrude in people’s lives at a time of anguish” (385). The authors of this review suggest that death and dying processes can be anthropologically studied and they provide data collected from anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and historians who concern themselves with cultural implications of the death phenomenon. A central figure in the early studies of death was Robert Hertz. His conception of death was: 1) death is not felt as instantaneous destruction of an individual’s life; 2) death is seen as a social event, the starting point of a ceremonial process whereby the dead person becomes an ancestor; and 3) death is like an initiation into social afterlife, making it a sort of rebirth. Then, the functionalists became interested in the problem of death for society, particularly “social loss”. Radcliffe-Brown suggested that the social functions of ceremonial customs are to teach, preserve, and transmit the adequate emotional dispositions from one generation to the next. Van Gennep had expected that the separation elements would be more important in funerals than other rites of passage but he demonstrated that it is the liminal or the transitional, which dominates mortuary rituals and symbolism. Many other scholars have focused on death, but mainly on issues of funeral rituals, mourning, and bereavement. Goody suggests that hostility and ambivalence are the main emotions that the dead produce on the living. Like Frazer, he shows how in some societies there is a split between the love of the dead person with fear of the corpse. In North America, Becker was one of the first to analyze the American “denial of death” (avoidance of dying persons and the bereaved, a fear of the fear of death, and feelings of uncertainty about the afterlife). Glaser and Strauss first focus on the “awareness of dying” and whether people can die socially before they die biologically; and, then, on the “dying trajectory”, which has duration, shape, and implicit expectations concerning the interrelation of time and certainty. Another important scholar was Kübler-Ross and her 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in relation to terminal illness. The importance of her work, from the anthropological point of view, lies in the changes she helped to bring about in the cultural climate of death, especially in North America. Lastly, another important figure, Gorer, has coined the notion of “the pornography of death” to suggest that death has replaced sex as the major taboo topic, which has consequences in denying mourning and not giving rituals to support mourners and producing maladaptive and neurotic responses. Kübler-Ross, Ariès, Glaser and Strauss, and Sudnow all conceived that the process of dying became lonelier, mechanical, and dehumanized. In fact, they demonstrated how hospitals are rarely responsive to the needs of dying people. Hospitals as institutions are committed to the healing process, and dying patients are a threat to that defined role. They create feelings of inadequacy within the medical profession, which is expected to deal effectively with disease in a systematic fashion. The dying patient who expresses anger is not seen as somebody who is trying to communicate a personal need but as a deviant who is violating the norm; namely, that a patient should be compliant and appreciative. Anthropologists might do well to follow the suggestion of Glaser and Strauss and investigate cross-cultural differences in the way institutions such as hospitals, old people’s homes, hospices or their equivalent handle death. In general, it is important to understand how the manner of dying affects variation in grief and mourning custom- whether in war, by accident, suicide, homicide, after a long or sudden illness, with different “dying trajectories”.
14) Foucault, Michel. 2003. Society Must be Defended. New York: Picador.
This is the first series of lectures given by Michel Foucault at the College de France at the second half of 1970s translated into English. In this book his main hypothesis is: Can war offer a means of studying and describing power relations? Foucault suggests that, from the seventeenth century onwards, war determined the birth of modern states: not a metaphoric or ideal war, which was presumed by the thinkers of the state of nature such as Machiavelli and Hobbes, but rather concrete wars and authentic confrontations. In a line similar to Benjamin’s thinking Foucault considers that legal systems and ruling apparatuses were born as a consequence of invasions, conquests, and destruction (the law of violence); but its effects persist on the instruments of power, in its institutions, laws, and order. Death, according to Foucault, at the end of eighteenth century “was no longer something that suddenly swooped down on life-is in an epidemic. Death was now something permanent, something that slips into life, perpetually gnaws at it, diminishes it and weakens it” (244). Then, public hygiene was the logical aim and the mean to medicalize the population. The power of regularization and making live and letting die created venues to intervene life but then power had no control over death, it could only control mortality. Indeed, “Power no longer recognizes death. Power literally ignores death” (248). Foucault investigates the penetration of race into the formations of state power and its discourse in the late nineteenth century, producing both fascism and Nazism, which for him are no more than the extreme consequences of the mechanisms of war inherent to power relations. Ethnic racism was endemic in the nineteenth century, when it was employed to supply an internal social defence against the “abnormals.” Foucault attempts to outline the moment when race struggle and class struggle became, at the end of the nineteenth century, the two great formats that were used to distinguish the phenomenon of war and the social struggles within political society. In fact, Foucault argues that racism is “needed” in the context of fighting for one’s own life (make live and let die). This bio-politics was organized in relation to the control and enhancement of life at the level of population, that somehow it was also oriented to kill (others) in order to let live (us). This bio-politics used two main elements to constitute itself: regulatory and security mechanisms. One central institution embedded with this bio-power is medicine, which became a political intervention-technique with specific power-effect, “Medicine is a power-knowledge that can be applied to both the body and the population, both the organism and the biological processes, and it will therefore have both disciplinary and regulatory effects” (252).
15) Bauman, Zygmunt. 1992. Mortality, Immortality & Other Life Strategies. Cambridge: Polity Press.
For Bauman, common knowledge about death, which he considers is provoked by a universal awareness of mortality, offers the inspiration and the catalyst for cultural creativity, and the drive behind transcendence. Bauman suggests that “culture is about expanding temporal and spatial boundaries of being, with a view to dismantling them altogether… the first activity of culture relates to survival-pushing back the moment of death, extending the life-span” (5). Bauman considers that the same awareness of mortality drives the cultural production of the notion of immortality; he says, “Mortality is ours without asking-but immortality is something we must build ourselves. Immortality is not a mere absence of death; it is defiance and denial of death” (7). Therefore, the social and cultural production of immortality is the central foundation of life’s meaning, producing the conversion of biological death into a cultural object, which in turn “offers the primary building material for social institutions and behavioral patterns crucial to the reproduction of societies in their distinctive forms” (9). Bauman finds two key strategies to deal with death and dying. The first is “the modern strategy”, which dismantles mortality by overcoming the unsolvable issue of death into many particular problems of health and illness, which are “soluble in theory”. The second is “the postmodern strategy”, which dismantles immortality through transformation of life into a regular preparation for “reversible death”, a change of “temporary disappearance” for the irreversible end of life.
16) Rose, Nikolas. 2007. The Politics of Life Itself. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
This book focuses on the impact of medicine and other biological disciplines on our society and our self-image. This book explores contemporary biopolitics in line with Michel Foucault’s proposal that current politics calls ‘life itself’ into question. It proposes that recent developments in the life sciences, biomedicine and biotechnology can conveniently be analyzed along three facets. The first relates to logics of control, for contemporary biopolitics is risk politics. The second relates to the “regime of truth” in the life sciences, for contemporary biopolitics is molecular politics. The third relates to technologies of the self, for contemporary biopolitics is ethopolitics. Rose indicates that, in these events, human beings have turned into “somatic individuals,” that is, personhood is increasingly being characterized in terms of corporeality, and new and direct relations are instituted between our biology and our conduct. Simultaneously, this somatic and corporeal individuality has become opened up to choice making (“design on demand”), discretion and responsibility, to experimentation, to contestation and thus to a politics of ‘life itself.’ While medicine has long had a role in shaping subjectivities, there are some significant aspects that differentiate current forms of bio-medical subjectification from their predecessors.
17) Guy, Donna. 2004. Life and Commodification of Death in Argentina: Juan and Eva Perón. In Johnson, Lyman (ed.) Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
In this article Guy tries to map the trajectories of both Juan and Eva Perón during their lives and after their deaths, and more generally the persistent popular religiosity over the heterogeneous grouping of people who died tragically and became enshrined into popular sainthood. Guy argues that, “Eva Perón both before and after her tragic death at a young age and the subsequent theft of her remains, became eminently marketable as a popular saint, while Juan Perón, wildly charismatic before his death, lost the charisma associated with him during life” (245). Men of the Army kidnapped Evita’s embalmed and plastified corpse in 1955 and this action further enlarged her cult. Her remains were only returned in 1976 and buried in the Recoleta Cemetery. Juan Perón, on the other hand, died in his bed as an old man in a chaotic country destroyed by political violence. His remains were buried at the Chacarita Cemetery and his hands were cut off from his grave in 1987 (crime still unsolved, and his hands have never reappeared). According to Guy, Evita became more and more a powerful popular saint after her death, whereas Juan Perón gradually lost his symbolic power and the dismemberment of his body was the last shot at the symbolic cult of Perón. Indeed, these two figures are inscribed in a larger historical tradition of popular cults and popular heroes, which are “rooted in the crisis-filled nature of modern Argentine society and a popular desire of the masses to empower themselves so that they can translate and control the meanings of public and mythical figures” (257). Guy concludes that a trend in the configuration of these popular saints and heroes is the “strong popular preference for those who give to, rather than those who take from the people” (268).
B. Death and Dying and Institutional Constrains
18) Kaufman, Sharon. 2005. And A Time to Die: How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life. New York: Scribner.
Sharon Kaufman both analyzes and dismantles the institutionalized forms of death in American Hospitals. The author finds three main components in regards to the current institutionalization of death: an American emphasis on autonomy, a highly market-oriented health care system, and the heroic and triumphalist intervention of modern biomedicine; these three factors united produce death as a mere bureaucratic and technologic event. Now death is shaped by administrative concerns and bureaucratic schedule; Kaufman says, “Once determined by processes taking place within the body… dying is now determined by procedures and structured by contemporary bureaucracy” (89). Kaufman detects two main institutional strategies when dealing with chronic and acute patients: 1) “flogging the patient”, in which patients, families and/or doctors persist on “doing everything” (often residents and nurses are against these procedures since they consider them as cruel and unnecessary); 2) “revolving the door pathway”, in which patients go back and forth from home to the hospital. This happens for many reasons: the hospital system, patients’ explicit wishes, or family demands. Kaufman shows how elder patients under the age of 70 are repeatedly treated with all kinds of technological treatments because dying is unreimbursable; whereas treating symptoms and prescribing increasingly extreme procedures is. Another important thing the author analyzes is how different semantic words families and doctors are experiencing; there is a certain double talk between what doctors say (they never use the words “death” or “dying”) and what families decode in doctors’ words. Doctors use a rhetoric of “dignity”, “suffering”, “natural death” when their intention is to move things along, or make the patient choose “do not resuscitate” (DNR). In fact, there is often miscommunication, and therefore families are confused, conflicted, distressed; Kaufman stresses that given the language and the kinds of “choices” offered to them, families very often do not know what to “choose”. Indeed, there is a type of patient that constantly lives in a “zone of indistinction”, these are the comatose and/or ventilator dependent patients, who are neither death nor alive, a technological liminoide human being. Even though doctors ascribe “personhood” to these patients, they represent “the shadow side of the demand for ‘death with dignity’” (275). It would have been interesting to have a discussion on bioethics and issues of equity in a nation-state that over-treat the percentage of its population who can afford medicine, and under-treat or avoid the uninsured poor, the outcasts. But this was not Kaufman’s objective in this book.
19) Lock, Margaret.1997. Displacing Suffering: The Reconstruction of Death in North American and Japan. In Social Suffering. Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock, eds. Pp. 207-244. Berkeley: University of California Press.
In this comparative study of social and medical attitudes towards medicalized death and organ transplant medicine, Lock situates the brain death debate at the heart of her analysis. Lock compares two sites, the US and Japan, in which technological development of transplant medicine and different professional and social contexts allow or preclude the social production of organ transplantation. In both contexts notions of personhood, and mortality and immortality are central to the public debate and the general approval or rejection of brain death as a defined marker of the end of one’s life, and the justification for organ removal and, then, transplantation. Informed consent is also a key part of this displacement of suffering (quote: “a first step is to recognize how easily suffering can be used in the service of ideological and political ends” (238). For Lock, in Japan, the individual suffering and the dying person, and the repulsion regarding the idea of receiving an organ from a person beyond the “natural” kin group may produce the lack of public support for organ transplantation. Whereas in the US, the notion of “gift of life,” with its inherent altruism, allegedly gives meaning to the individual death, and, thus, supports the ethics of transplantation. Another important issue is the role of technology within society; Lock says that in Japan “A tension between technology as both creator and destroyer of culture is evident” (231). Whereas in the US, bio-technology is a central force that propels a highly corporative and non-inclusive biomedicine. For Lock, there is a need for a middle ground that avoids “the silencing of individual suffering in the name of nationalism, or professional or governmental interest” (237). Lock sees culture as a framework for understanding health, illness and the body, and Western medicine is rooted in its cultural beliefs.
20) Farmer, Paul. 2001. Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Paul Farmer analyzes Social inequalities in relation to the growing phenomena of infectious diseases. Farmer focuses on the social causes that produce the illnesses and death of the poor, something that has been generally out of sight for physicians and anthropologists. Social inequality and our tolerance to it, Farmer challenges, represent our modern plague. Social inequalities have to be attacked structurally. For instance, AIDS and TB are still stigmatized and morally charged, and are good examples of the uneven importance given to particular forms of human life (e.g. MDRTB patients and the lack of treatment is ethically and epidemiologically erroneous). Farmer shows there is a disparity in relation between who is affected (lower class people and women) and how poor the health services are that should help them. Biomedical and public health researchers fail to analyze how structural forces coerce lower class people and women’s individual agency, while at the same time, personal agency is overstated. Infectious disease ought to be analyzed in both macro and micro-scale, but ultimately Farmer is pushing for a macro-structural study of social inequalities and disease. Farmer uses particular stories, narrated from his own experience as both a doctor and anthropologist immersed in the life of the poor throughout the world, to discover the structural causation and the social responses. He feels a dual loyalty to both anthropology and medicine, and he is also driven by these two ways of knowing and acting: “The anthropologist in me is perfectly satisfied to analyze [accusations of sorcery, whose primary reason for existence is to make sense of suffering]. But to a physician it is nothing less than punishing to see preventable or treatable pathologies chalked up to village-level squabbles. The doctor in me insists that no one should die of TB today; it’s completely curable. Yet it is, at the same time, the world’s leading infections cause of death among young adults. An estimated 3 million people are dying each year from TB” (3).
21) Sudnow, David. 1967. Passing On: The Social Organization of Dying. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Sudnow was the first to show the backstage of death management in two hospitals (one public, attending to lower class patients, and the other private, attending to middle-class patients); how information and emotions in relation to death were covered or uncovered, and how the timing of death was managed. Sudnow clearly describes the socially organized and routinely manipulated death. In his account not only dying patients but also relatives are directed in certain ways according to the needs of the hospital workers. The maneuvering of dying patients, how they are relocated and taken out of the sight of other patients and family members, is crucial for the “well management of death”.
C. Ethnographies of Death and Dying
22) Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1968  Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
According to Evans-Pritchard, for the Azande death is caused by witchcraft and must always be avenged. Vengeance is part of a moral duty. If a man kills another person by witchcraft the crime is his own responsibility and his kin are not connected with the guilt of this crime, but as soon as the victimizer is killed or had paid compensation, the issue is closed. So in a sense vengeance-magic and witchcraft are part of the same logical structure. The part of the vengeance-magic accounts for the conclusion of mourning of one family, whereas the part of witchcraft describes the beginning of vengeance by another family. However, Azande are not interested in spreading vengeance in general. Azande people find and recognize multiple causalities regarding death, there are co-operating causes, but they single out and select witchcraft as the ultimate cause because death is not only a natural fact but also, and more importantly, a social fact: it is an annihilation of a member of the family and kin, of a community and tribe. In particular, among all the causes of death, witchcraft is the only one that has any consequence for social behavior. Illness and misfortune are caused by broken taboos or disharmony (witchcraft) at the social levels of family and community. However, there are certain exceptions, for instance, the deaths of babies from certain diseases are ascribed vaguely to the “Supreme Being.” Witchcraft beliefs can adapt according to specific situations; “they are loose associations of notions. When a writer brings them together in a book and presents them as a conceptual system their insufficiencies and contradictions are at once apparent. In real life they do not function as a whole but in bits” (540). In fact, “Azande actualizes these [witchcraft] beliefs rather than intellectualizes them” (82-3), selecting in “each situation the particular pattern of thought appropriate to it. Hence an individual in one situation will employ a notion he excludes in a different situation. The many beliefs I have recorded are so many different tools of thought and he selects that ones that are chiefly to his advantage” (349-350). Evans-Pritchard is clear and emphatic that Azande notions can be seen as mystical but we cannot say the use of them is illogically or even uncritical. Indeed, witchcraft, oracles, and magic reach their peak of importance, as both procedures and ideologies, at death.
23) Robben, Antonius. 2000. State Terror in the Netherworld: Dissapearance and Reburial in Argentina. In Jeffrey Sluka, (ed.) Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Political use of human remains, disappearances of enemies, and reburial have been of central magnitude in Argentine political culture. According to Robben, their importance arises not only from “the belief in the influence of the dead on the world of the living, and the obligation to bury comrades-in-arms with full honors” (92), but also from universal care for the dead and the emotional necessity for mourning. Robben’s aim is to analyze the uneasiness about the spirit of the dead enemy, the confrontation by relatives of the disappeared, the covering up and impediment for mourning processes of the survivors of the so-called “dirty war”, and how all these actions thus expanded state terror into the hereafter. During the military dictatorship (1976-1983) and under the task forces (grupos de tarea), Argentine society turned into a terror-stricken one. But before the dictatorship, during the civil wars in the end of CXIX, the mutilation of enemy corpses was seen as a form of dispersing, though without destroying, the spiritual force of the dead. Disappearance of political enemies then became the main political practice of terror and coercion imposed on political rivals and surviving relatives. After 1983, the surviving relatives need for exhumations and reburial brought about a conflict within the mothers of those who disappeared. In 1986 the conflict splits the mothers in two human rights organizations: one pro-exhumations and the other against, because they considered that all assassins should have been imprisoned. Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, says, “We are against these exhumations because we don’t want our children to die” (103). Ultimately, reburials were transformed from rituals of remembrance into acts of restitution for their comrades-in-arms, and in acts of disobedience and public confrontation for their political opponents.
24) Biehl, Joaõ. 2005. Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment. Berkeley: University of California Press.
This is a study of the growing pervasiveness of urban places in dreadfully inhumane conditions that pile and house the social outcasts of contemporary Brazil. Biehl refers to such places as “zones of social abandonment” (2); that is, zones in which family ties are lost, medical and governmental attention are absent, like in Vita, an “end-station on the road of poverty; […] where living beings go when they are no longer considered people” (2). Places like Vita, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, are modern urban “dump” sites for the poor, the mentally ill, the elder, the jobless, AIDS patients, and, of course, the homeless. Vita is a dumpsite and although neither legal authorities nor welfare and medical institutions intervene in this place, they do direct the unwanted to this type of zone. Therefore, these no-man’s-land places are “intertwined with the realities of changing households and with local forms of the state, medicine, and the economy” (4). Biehl looks at Catarina’s life, an inmate in her thirties, a lucid “abandoned person.” She somehow represents the effects of the manifold and complex interactions of the social, medical, familial, and governmental inattention and malpractices. Catarina and Biehl both reflect on her irremediable exclusion from society as well as her own struggles against this exclusion manifested through her ceaseless writing of her own dictionary at the indigent asylum. This study also shows some of the background on the “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill in the 1990s in Porto Alegre that removed “the burden of care from state institutions to the family and communities” (48). Biehl traces some of Catarina’s medical records that expose the insufficient and careless mental health treatment (misdiagnoses and unnecessary over-medication) she received, and also her family rejection. Biehl ultimately shows the structural violence (in Farmer’s terms) that irreversibly led to her “social death” in life, but also her revolt against her own fate.
This is an impressive and well-written ethnography centered on the Argentinean Chaco and the Toba people. In fact, Gordillo focuses on the multiplicities of contradictions, negotiations and denials that Argentina’s history (re)present in relation to indigenous people, marginalized populations, appropriation of resources, the power of memory to struggle and the struggle for memory. Throughout this book, there are different forms of actions and agency not only in relation to the Toba, the Anglican and other churches, the owners and workers of the Sugar plantations, the Argentinean State, and the Army but also in regards to non-humans actors: what Gordillo and others call “the devils.” These “devils” are no more than spirits with powers to heal or do harm to wisdom or un-memory, and Toba people navigate the relation with them in many different ways between situations of selfishness and solidarity, scarcity and abundance. Humans and non-humans agents are both active forces in the production of space and tensions of places. In this way, this is also an ethnography of how the memories of the past still have an effect on the present Toba communities. Therefore, space, memory, place and movement are intrinsically connected. In fact, social relations produce space, a heterogeneous space that is ordered in the interrelation and co-relation of different places characterized under endless tensions. “Tensions of places” refer to the particularity that places for Toba are what they are and what they are not at once. Gordillo describes the multiple tensions of place that subverts places “in themselves” and demonstrates how their borders and attributes are produced in their contradiction with other places, and how each time they involve not just two but manifold tensions of places. If one looks at the more than 50 pictures in Gordillo’s book, one would find that more than 75% of them usually show a Toba man with a rifle or a machete in their hands. It is true they are hunters, and they use these weapons to kill animals, but one could also argue that some of the mixed feelings and contradictions criollo and white people have with the Toba is their fear that they may use their weapons, their skills, and local knowledge against them. I do not know if this portrayal of Toba people with weapons has been deliberated or not, but this is something that struck me most; I think it says a lot about the constant relationship Toba men have with their neighbors, the State and the non-human beings.
26) Taylor, Diana 1997 Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's "Dirty War." Durham: Duke University Press.
Taylor suggests that in Argentina, during the so-called “dirty war”, military forces were performing their public kidnapping and disappearing acts at day light with the aim to demobilize social movements and demonize the “subversive” opposition. The terror perpetrated by the state military and paramilitary forces against guerrilla organizations, and also against any social, political and worker movements confronting the dictatorship political and economic agenda, was a public spectacle with a clear message: “if you appear confronting us, we are going to disappear you.” The military government played a double game; they massively and noticeably cut out a wide range of people that would fall in the category of “political enemies”, and at the same time they made the torture and killings invisible by denying the disappearances and hiding the bodies/corpses from the public scrutiny. This precise performance is Taylor’s main object: a politics of looking. A politics that obliged people to look at this “spectacle” without the capacity to react, and consequently this prevented society from any reaction. For Taylor, given that public disappearances were visible points to the fact that “the population as a whole was the intended target, positioned by means of that spectacle” (123). People-as-paralyzed-observers are situated as witnesses and traitors; if they communicate what they saw they are likely to be “performing” as victims of the kidnap the next time, but if they do not say anything they are responsible for having witnessed a neighbor being taken away. This massive performance had two main effects; it depolitizes and traumatizes society and, as a result, social bonds were shrunk to bare minimum. But at the gender level, this military performance produced specific gendered identities, a gendered “strong” masculine force which operates on the concrete bodies of the women. The military establishment creates the Argentine nation as a woman, a feminine mother that needs to be protected from polluting, corrupted, and dangerous forces. The military propaganda and the public disappearing acts portrayed the military masculine power, which according to Taylor created and supported the logic of state terror, not as plain fear but as an action over the body of the nation in order to save her. Not only the nation was conceived as feminine, but the enemy’s body was created as feminine as well. There was a material and symbolic devastation of the feminine body that recreates this masculine draining and consumption of the female body, and this masculine appropriation of it. Finally, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, according to Taylor, are located in a hybrid position as they produce a political force beyond the prevailing notion of being a “good mother”, but they are also trapped in the bad scripts of motherhood and the hegemonic meaning to being a woman. Therefore, they cannot entirely embody their possibility of being women political full actors.
27) Taussig, Michael. 1987. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
One of the best ethnographies ever written, Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man is both a representation of historical “reality” and an epistemological experiment, an intervention into the real. Taussig convincingly puts shamanism and colonialism side by side, since shamanism/colonization are central to understand southwest Colombia (and many parts of Latin America too) and the violence that exploited throughout the rubber boom and on the current practices of shamanism. Taussig shows how white men’s terror in Colombia’s rubber boom was created by mimesis, particularly by the imagined fear of white settlers on the horror that Indians and nature would cause on them. Colonizers constructed indigenous people and the physical environment as an extreme Other, as sites of terror, to whom they could only cause the violence and torture they imagine into the others, mainly the indigenous people. There is a recurrent and recursive trope in Taussig between imagined and real violence, and at the end one can “understand” (or perhaps evoke following Taussig non-representational rhetoric) that rubber boom’s violence, torture, and killing was not triggered by any social or economic logic, but rather it has neither efficacy nor function. With different degrees (and, of course, differences in who was killed) everyone was trapped under this aimless violence: white men were killing indigenous people, indigenous people were killing other indigenous people, and indigenous people were killing white men. This extremely violent and paranoid out-of-the-place site of colonization transformed and shaped both indigenous people and colonizers in a space of death that covered all. Taussig explicitly sees this interplay and contradiction between the production of healing and terror, “the politics of epistemic murk and the fiction of the real, in the creation of Indians, in the role of the myth and magic in colonial violence as much as in its healing, and in the way that healing can mobilize terror in order to subvert it” (xiii). Both healing and terror are productive forces that interpenetrate one another and which shape indigenous and colonizers worlds. Terror represents violence, death, and torture for indigenous people; it is not only colonizers’ attempt to organize this space but also colonizers’ fear to indigenous hidden powers. Healing, on the other hand, is not the flip side of terror. Healing reworks terror, shamans use terror to heal through the contradictions of the space of death. Taussig uses a montage type of writing; he reassembles dismantled pieces and collected fragments. For Taussig, the space of death of colonization can best be evoked as a massive montage.
28) Nelson, Diane. 1999. A finger in the wound. Body politics in Quincentennial Guatemala. Berkeley: University of Berkeley Press.
Nelson says, “Although most agree that the Guatemalan state is politically exclusive, ethnically discriminatory, and economically monopolistic, it may be precisely because of this insecurity, this tenuousness, that the state is also open in some ways” (84). This is what she calls the “Piñata Effect”: the idea that if you shake it, you’ll take the sweets. This attraction and repulsion to the State, not only from the Maya’s but also ladino’s (and other minority groups) point of view, creates multiple tensions, desires, and jokes. One central notion here is that the nation-state is in ruins. There is the image of the ruin, the state is in ruins, the ladino’s identity is in ruin, Guatemala lives for and of the (Mayas) ruins; all this fueled by the sense that the state has no legitimacy after decades of military and civil elite government. Nelson also considers Chatterjee’s idea that the colonies were the first places in which the metropolis tried modernity. She shows how in Guatemala the highlands were a “modern laboratory” in which model villages, as state policy, reterritorialized the indigenous villages in order to gain a better control on particular forms of governmentality in the counterinsurgency war. These paradoxes, Nelson asks, can be grasped with the idea of state fetishism. What about the idea of the “Piñata Effect”? For Nelson it represents the contradict sense of hitting the state for being corrupt, racist, and responsible of ethnocide and at the same time waiting to gain the power and resources that are magically projected onto the state. There is certainly a battlefield of the allegedly integrated national ethnicity of mestizaje shaped by the elites’ racializing and womanizing discourses and practices that interconnect nation, gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality as reciprocally constitutive. The tortured, wounded, and massacred splattered bodies are polysemic and have different meanings according to each specific body and the particular audience; for the army is an enemy that in 40,000 times had to be disappeared, for the Maya is a sign of injustice and impunity. This also means that Guatemala as an ethnic-nation is split; “a nation that is not one”. The body politics of Guatemala also splatter because it is in constant malfunction, ladinos, mestizos, and Maya are mutually constituted as others. The political production of difference is what makes splattered bodies and what can help us to understand some of the national fixations with the Maya as woman and ladino as man (woman as the “universal donor” to the blood politics of mestizaje). For Nelson, the fixated claim that in Guatemala everyone is mestizo, and because of this the racialized body does not count and only culture counts, the belief is produced by elites and ladinos that “because we are all racially mestizo, then we can escape racism” (240). But instead this shows the fragile instability in which ethnic and racial categories are built in Guatemala; in which a ladino is anxious to be taken as an Indian and where ladino elites are trained to “see” (through some kind of false consciousness) the difference between Indian and white bodies while at the same time hide that they may actually be mestizos.
29) Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1992. Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press.
In this book, Scheper-Hughes shows how whether for economic, cultural, or other complex conditions, adults seem to transfer to the newborn the “agency” to determine for his/herself the right to live or die, from birth to age one. A state of “pre-personhood” or “pre-sociality” characterizes this period. This book is probably less about infant mortality (S-H explicitly reject to classify the majority of these deaths as ‘infanticide’) and more about how we can take the point of view of outsiders, middleclass, professionals and westerners when thinking about the major frame of social inequalities that cause not only infant mortality, but also a wide range of social problems inseparable from the specific deaths of these infants. In connecting infant mortality with poverty, social abandonment, and emotional stress, Scheper-Hughes is putting her emphasis on what she calls the “moral relativism and the primacy of the ethical” in relation to the “everyday violence, political and domestic horror, and madness” (1992: 21). The “thinking and practice” of these women are a phenomena which are part of the politics of affect; their reactions to their infants’ reactions, their strategies of investing less material/emotional resources (in a context of extreme scarcity), and their choice to neither baptize nor give them names until their first anniversary. Scheper-Hughes illustrates how terror, pain, sorrow, joy, loss, and so on, frame a “political economy of the emotions expressed in the somatization of scarcity and deprivation” (1992: 326). Nevertheless, when she thinks of “emotions,” maybe she is referring to affect. What distinguishes one from the other is that emotion needs a subject and/or object, but affect does not. Therefore, emotions tend to be personal, and instead, affect can be considered as impersonal. Moreover, this is exactly how these women slowly pass from the impersonal affect to the personal emotions. This maternal thinking and feeling only gradually become objectified in specific subjects (their babies).
30) Lock, Margaret 1996. Death in Technological Time: Locating the End of Meaningful Life. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10(4):575-600.
This article explains how debate about technologically manipulated death is developed in radically dissimilar forms in the scientifically oriented spaces of Japan and North America. Lock argues that the operationalization, institutionalization and reasonability of “brain death” as the definition of the end of life in North America have been substantiated by an hegemonic discourse in which it is claimed that if specific scientifically measurable standards are achieved, a person can be confirmed scientifically and undoubtedly dead. On the contrary, in Japan, death is understood first and foremost as a social and not an individual experience. Indeed, attempts to scientifically demarcate the end of life as an assessable spot in time are refused by the majority as well as many clinicians. According to Lock, central to these different attitudes toward death is the debate between nature and culture, which occupied different moral status in the respective dominant discourses. The notion of “nature”, as well as the mode in which it is conceived in relation to what is understood as culture is, evidently, socially constructed, and therefore meanings linked to both these notions vary through time and space. Bruno Latour (1993) has demonstrated the way in which we “modems” have compartmentalized our world so that we grasp nature as being “out there”, scientifically comprehensible, and in a realm separate from that of society and social relations, both of which are then different from subjective experience, and also from the discourse that we produce to think about our world. Nature is ideally conceived as a realm wholly independent from the social and moral order. In practice, however, “nature” serves as a moral standard, the effects of which are particularly clear when we designate the status of life or death to various entities. Lock shows that the institutionalization and legitimization of “brain death” as the end of human life, followed by its routinization across North America and much of Europe, have produced debate in terms of how to assign the notions of life and death to scientifically deducible and demonstrable categories, and as a result to make them unquestionable beyond professional medical sphere. For Lock, questionable cases raise worries about accuracy and legitimacy but do not typically encourage questioning of an ontological type. When Lock compares contemporary Japan, she highlights the diverse ways in which the respective arguments are produced out of different dominant sets of assumptions about the type of relationship between nature and culture. In fact, in the case of Japan these assumptions make it hard to produce arguments about death as restricted to questions of scientific precision.