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Life and Death

Life and death are broad categories across anthropological sub-disciplines (especially biological, medical, and social-cultural), and the many articles, reviews and fictional works on these topics published by Cultural Anthropology reflect this rich ethnographic diversity. Life connotes vitality, energy, spirit, animacy, continuity, generation, and organismic being, demarcated as durational existence from nascent cellular and social development to expiration. Potent in structural theory, they are often placed in an ultimate binary with phenomenological and symbolic correlatives of light:dark, up:down, movement:inertia, wellness:illness, and good:evil. Death has been given richer anthropological analysis in studies of religion and ritual-the latter recently noted by Jackson (2011) as a management and re-distribution of "life-energy"-as have the process of dying and experiences of mourning and loss on personal and collective levels. As life and death are conventionally associated as with the human body and its developmental progression across the life course, there has been ample concern for understanding dimensions of selfhood, personhood and the subjectivities of bodily individuals. Anthropologists, however, have pushed beyond seeing life and death as a simplistic beginning and end, a singular alpha and omega. Rather than polarized ontological extremes, life and death are both substance and process, the contours of which are consistently reshaped by social, political and symbolic actions. Temporally, they are never static, but variably extended, contracted, and suspended in techniques of power. Pushing beyond the limits of the present, visible body, has been productive for feminist and cyborg anthropologists to question lives amid structural and political violence. The bodily experience of violence has been traced to state, nongovernmental, and corporate institutions and logics of race, gender, ethnicity and class. A renewed interest in philosophies of sovereignty and (neo-) vitalism (Bataille, Deleuze, Agamben), have placed life and death at the theoretical forefront, raising questions of how power, governance and structural conditions enable certain lives to flourish and others to dissipate. The ethnographic project becomes evermore critical in documenting loss of life under bio-, thanato- or necro-political regimes of power (Foucault, Rabinow, Mbembe). Finally, making some subjects—both human and non-human—more alive or lively than others also speaks to questions of power, namely, bio-scientific power/knowledge systems whose discourses and capacities to maneuver the impermeabilities and malleabilities of organismic entities have brought forth new forms of relatedness, reproduction, and forms of life itself. While continuing certain conversations in anthropologies of medicine, the body, religion, power and violence, an anthropology of life and death expands our theoretical-philosophical foundations and engages the political in fresh and nuanced directions.

Cyborg Violence: Bursting Borders and Bodies with Queer Machines

Consuming Pity: The Production of Death among the Cashinahua

Fear as a Way of Life

Death and Memory: From Santa María del Monte to Miami Beach

Essential Outlines of Crime and Madness: Man-Fights in São Luís

Interaction of Physical Maturation and Cultural Practice in Ontogeny: Kikuyu Adolescents

Timing and Management of Birth among the !Kung: Biocultural Interaction in Reproductive Adaptation

How to Die in America