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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.

On the Importance of Wolves

Fires, Fogs, Winds

Tangles of Care: Killing Goats to Save Tortoises on the Galápagos Islands

Humanitarian Care and the Ends of Life: The Politics of Aging and Dying in a Palestinian Refugee Camp

Decomposition as Life Politics: Soils, <i>Selva</i>, and Small Farmers under the Gun of the U.S.–Colombia War on Drugs

Herding Species: Biosecurity, Posthuman Labor, and the American Industrial Pig

The Tragic Denouement of English Sociality

Witness: Humans, Animals, and the Politics of Becoming

Speculative Matter: Secular Bodies, Minds, and Persons

Ethnography in the Way of Theory

Progress and its Ruins: Ghosts, Migrants, and the Uncanny in Thailand

Dengue Mosquitos Are Single Mothers: Biopolitics Meets Ecological Aesthetics in Nicaraguan Community Health Work

A Kidnapping in Basra: the Struggles and Precariousness of Life in Post-invasion Iraq

More Alive Than All the Living: Sovereign Bodies and Cosmic Politics in Buddhist Siberia

The Headless Horseman of Central India: Sovereignty at Varying Thresholds of Life

Scientific Sovereignty: How International Drug Donation Programs Reshape Health, Disease, and the State

The Semiotics of Security: Infectious Disease Research and the Biopolitics of Informational Bodies in the United States

Afterlives: Humanitarian Histories and Critical Subjects in Mozambique

Witchcraft, Bureaucraft, and the Social Life of (US) Aid in Haiti

Articulating Potentiality: Notes on the Delineation of the Blank Figure in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Symptoms of Another Life: Time, Possibility, and Domestic Relations in Chile's Credit Economy

Making Time for the Children: Self-Temporalization and the Cultivation of the Antisuicidal Subject in South India

The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography: A Special Guest-Edited Issue of Cultural Anthropology

Prendas-Ngangas-Enquisos: Turbulence and the Influence of the Dead in Cuban Kongo Material Culture

Physical Training, Ethical Discipline, and Creative Violence: Zones of Self-Mastery in the Hindu Nationalist Movement

Gifts Intercepted: Biopolitics and Spirit Debt

Suicide, Risk, and Investment in the Heart of the African Miracle

On the Trail of Living Modified Organisms: Environmentalism Within and Against Neoliberal Order

The Elegiac Addict: History, Chronicity, and the Melancholic Subject

Post-Pasteurian Cultures: The Microbiopolitics of Raw-Milk Cheese in the United States