Life and Death: A Conversation, 2012

Society for Cultural Anthropology

Spring 2012 Meeting

Location: Providence Biltmore Hotel

May 11-12, 2012

Organized by: Jennifer Cole (Chicago), Peter Redfield (UNC Chapel Hill), and Danilyn Rutherford (UC Santa Cruz)

The deadline for proposals was January 15, 2012. The deadline for advanced registration has been extended to May 12.

Life and death have long played a central role in anthropology’s efforts to define the human. Recent developments in the experience of both, however, suggest reconfigurations in these essential thresholds of being and a corresponding need to reexamine the analytic assumptions brought to bear on them. Alongside the emergence of new forms of biological science, medical technology and expertise, a concern for life pervades both international political discourse and the rhetoric of international moralism. Both individual bodies and figures of mass death feature prominently in political stagecraft, while calculations of risk define and measure life conditions. In addition to recognizing the emergence of humanitarianism, human rights, and ecology as key secular domains central to the construction of valued life, we ask participants to rethink classic topics in politics, ethics, kinship and religion around this concern for being and nonbeing. What phenomena mark an era that rediscovers economy in terms of precariousness, and sanctions state torture in the name of security? What new ghosts might it produce? How have these changes unsettled kinship, generations, and human horizons of the future by reconfiguring relations between the living and the dead or the young and the old?

At the 2012 SCA Conference, to be held in the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, we encourage discussion about matters of life and death, as perceived through anthropological and ethnographic inquiry. We explicitly call for conversations in the spirit of exchange and engagement rather than isolated analysis, and encourage participants to experiment with format and topic, cross boundaries and seek unexpected connections.

Our conference invites papers, films, photo essays, and multimedia installations that track, propose, or otherwise reveal and interrogate issues related to existence, nonexistence and relatedness in a manner that invites conversation. We are as interested in topics ‘traditional’ to anthropology (rites of passage or remembrance for example) as we are in thematic newcomers and related topics — such as biopolitics — that now fill the disciplinary horizon. Multi-disciplinary presentations and contributions by non-anthropologists are likewise welcome.

In our program thus far, we are pleased to announce that the David Schneider Memorial Lecture will take the form of a conversation between João Biehl (Anthropology, Princeton) and Vinh-Kim Nguyen (Social and Preventative Medicine, Université de Montréal).

Our plenary speakers include: Laura Bear (LSE), Erica Bornstein (U Wisconsin Milwaukee), Lawrence Cohen (U.C. Berkeley), Eric Fassin (Ecole Normale Supérieure), Gillian Feeley-Harnik (U Michigan), and Ilana Feldman (George Washington U).

SCA Poster Images, Creative Commons, Courtesy of:

Luis Argerich, "High speed train." September 13, 2008 via Flickr (

Dan Brady, "Life Ring." January 1, 1980 via Flickr (

Keoni Cabral, "Now a spirit in the sand." November 11, 2010 via Flickr (

Cynthia Goldsmith, "Influenza virus particle color." 1981 via Wikimedia Commons (

Lorenzo, "Ghosts in Milan, chapter one - n.1." June 2, 2010 via Flickr (

Jennifer Woodard Maderazo, "Multitude on Grant St." September 23, 2007 via Flickr (

Gene Selkov, "Life on the riverfront." May 9, 2008 via Flickr (

Amadeus Serey Yáñez, "Humanity's point of view." November 12, 2006 via Flickr (


Locations TBA

Friday, May 11, 8:30am—10:15am

Plenary Conversation I, Location: Grand Ballroom

Eric Fassin (Ecole Normale Supérieure) Lawrence Cohen (UC Berkeley)

Chair: Jennifer Cole (U Chicago)

Friday, May 11, 10:30am—12:15pm

Photo-Essays: Seas of Change in Coastal Louisiana: Documenting Life, Loss, and Landscape, Location: Salon 6

Jessica Schexnayder (LSU/Louisiana Sea Grant College Program): Shrimp Boats, Swing Sets and Voodoo Dolls: Cemeteries of Coastal Louisiana,

Rebecca Carter (Brown U): Life and Death on Fragile Ground: A Photo-Essay and Guided Expedition from New Orleans to the Birdfoot Delta

Discussant: Donald W. Davis (Louisiana Sea Grant College Program)

Organizers: Rebecca Carter (Brown U) and Jessica Schexnayder (Louisiana Sea Grant College Program)

Subjects of, Subjects to Death, Location: Renaissance Salon

Hoon Song (U Minnesota): The Giant of a King’s Second Body at Kim Jong-Il’s Funeral

Marilyn Ivy (Columbia U): Deathly Instantiations: Writing the Japanese Disaster of 2011

Ozge Serin (Columbia University): Writing, Dying: On the Death Fast in Turkish PrisonsJean M. Langford (U Minnesota): Non-Death of the Near-Human

Organizers: Jean Langford (U Minnesota) and Hoon Song (U Minnesota)

Humanitarian Residue: the Moral Politics of Saving Lives, Location: Salon 2

Cristiana Giordano (UC Davis): The Cannibal State: Including and ‘Digesting’ the Other in Contemporary Italy

Saida Hodzic (Cornell U): The Value of Freedom: The Social Life of Ghana’s Criminal Code Act 484

Bianca Dahl (Brown U): The NGO as Sugar Daddy: The Moral Meets the Material in a Botswana Orphan Care Program

Crystal Biruk (Brown U): Soap, Bloodsuckers, and Surveys: Moral Economies of AIDS Survey Research in Malawi

Discussant: Jennifer Cole (U Chicago)

Organizers: Saida Hodzic (Cornell U) and Bianca Dahl (Brown U)

Grey Areas and Ultimates, in Living Color, Location: Grand Ballroom

Judith Farquhar (U Chicago): Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out

Rocio Magaña (Rutgers U): Crossing Thresholds: Migrants between Life, Death, the U.S., and Mexico

Kristina Lyons (UC Davis): Soils, Shared Bodies and Stamina: Life and Death in the Colombian Amazon

Alex Blanchette (U Chicago): Maximizing Life on the American Factory Farm

Kregg Hetherington (Dalhousie U): From Cultivation to Protection: The Preservation of Life takes over the Paraguayan Farm

Tatiana Chudakova (U Chicago): The Afterlife of the Soviet State: Logics of Rebirth, Accumulation and Scarcity in Russian Buddhism

Organizer: Judith Farquhar (U Chicago)

Friday, May 11, 12:15pm-1:00pm

Lunch Break

Friday, May 11, 1:00pm-2:45pm

Living with Dead Futures, Location: Salon 6

Elayne Oliphant (U Chicago): Faith in an Absent Future

Pascal Gaudette (McGill U): Persistence of Form: African Ballet After the Death of Colonial, Socialist and Developmental Futures

Kathryn Goldfarb (U Chicago): Former Child in a World of Adults: Troubled Transformations in a Tokyo Self-Support Group

Eli Thorkelson (U Chicago): Hostile Futures: Temporal Conflict, a Break in the Everyday, and its Aftermath in the 2009 French University Strikes

Talia Weiner (U Chicago): Temporalities of Agency: Managing Bipolar Disorder in the Face of Uncertain Future Selfhood

Discussant: Danilyn Rutherford (UC Santa Cruz)

Organizer: Eli Thorkelson (U Chicago)

Transforming Mortuary Rituals: East and West, Location: Renaissance Salon

Lucia Huwy-min Liu (Boston U): Dying Socialist in Capitalist Shanghai: Memorial Meetings, Death Rituals, and Perceptions of Self in Urban Shanghai

Ruth Toulson (U Wyoming): Luxuries for the Dead: New Memorialization in Singapore

Jenny Huberman (U Missouri-Kansas City): Forever a Fan: Reflections on the Branding of Death and the Production of Value

Jeff Bennett (U Missouri-Kansas City): From Monuments to Megapixles: Remembering the Dead in Modern America

Caroline Schuster (U Chicago): Debt Forgiveness: On Microfinance and Mortuary Practice

Organizer: Jenny Huberman (U Missouri-Kansas City)

Life Cycles of Resource Extraction: Lives, Deaths and Afterlives for Mining Communities and Commodities, Location: Salon 2

David Kneas (Yale U): Chronic Potential: Unfulfilled Dreams of Mining in Ecuador

Tom Schilling (MIT): Between the Mines: Geological Data in Life and Death

Joshua Z. Walker (U Chicago): Living in a “Future Ghost Town”: Diamonds and the Lifecourse of a Congolese Mining Community

Lindsay A. Bell (U Toronto): Resuscitating the Ruins: Mining Impermanence in Canada’s North

Discussant: Rosalind Morris (Columbia U)

Organizers: Joshua Z. Walker (U Chicago) and Lindsay A Bell (U Toronto)

Consuming Death, Location: Grand Ballroom

Noelle Molé (Princeton U): Italy’s zombie-workers and the Contested Soul

Harris Solomon (Duke U): Fat Territory: "Globesity" and the Bodily Politics of Comparison in India

Kim Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute): Making Environmental Sense: To Eat, or not to Eat?

Discussant: Brad Weiss (College of William & Mary)

Organizer: Harris Solomon (Duke U)

Friday, May 11, 3:00pm- 4:45pm

Sociality and Deathly Solitude: on Life, Death and Being Alone, Location: Grand Ballroom

Zoë H. Wool (Rutgers U): Precarious Solitude: Deadly Attachments and Life Preserving Aloneness at a U.S. Military Hospital

Kenneth MacLeish (Rutgers U): Logics of Military Suicide

Anne Alison (Duke U): Sharing Death as a Form of Sociality in Post Postwar Japan

Julie Livingston (Rutgers U): Figuring the Tumor

Organizers: Zoë H. Wool (Rutgers U) and Kenneth MacLeish (Rutgers U)

Robots, Zombies, Ghosts, Location: Salon 2

Kelly Ladd (York U): Animals as Instruments: Biomimetic Noses and the War on Terror

Heather Myers (Harvard U): Crawling Off the Screen: An Ethnography of Live Action Zombie Events in the United States

Larisa Kurtovic (UC Berkeley): A Zombie State: On Everyday Politics and the Condition of Perpetual Deferral in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

Aaron Goodfellow (John Hopkins U): I´m a Slave to the Grind: Enslavement, Chemical Dependency and the Sovereignty of the Will

Politics of Containment in/between Life and Death, Location: Renaissance Salon

Carlo Caduff (U Zurich): Of Mimicry and Microbes

Emily Cohen (Columbia U): Amputations and Anesthesia: Changing Notions of Life, Death, and Human Consciousness in a Colombian Military Hospital

Angie Heo (Emory U): Relics as Containers in Cults of Life and Death

Maria José de Abreu (U Lisbon): Specters of Indebtedness in Portuguese Society

Vibeke Pihl (U Copenhagen): Multiple Lives and Singular Deaths - Exploring the Use of Pigs as Model Organisms in Biomedical Research on Human Health

Coleman Nye (Brown U): When Survival Isn’t Soon Enough: Tracing the Emergence of Immaterial Disease

Organizers: Maria José de Abreu (U Lisbon) and Angie Heo (Emory U)

The Curve of Life: What Lies Ahead?, Location: Salon 6

Mike Sutherland (U Massachusetts-Amherst): Potential for Dystopia

Eric Griffith (U Massachusetts-Amherst): Questioning the World I Will Inherit

Virginia Cornue (Rutgers U): Why China’s Global Encompassment Matters in Matters of Life, Living and Death

David Nixon (Town Administrator, Hadley Massachusetts): A View of the Future from Town Hall

Organizer: Ken Jacobson (Boston U)

Friday, May 11, 5:00pm- 6:30pm

Plenary Conversation II, Location: Garden Room

Erica Bornstein (U Wisconsin Milwaukee)

Ilana Feldman (George Washington U)

Chair: Peter Redfield (UNC Chapel Hill)

Saturday, May 12 , 8:30am—10:15am

Plenary Conversation III, Location: Grand Ballroom

Laura Bear (LSE)

Gillian Feeley-Harnik (U Michigan)

Chair: Danilyn Rutherford (UC Santa Cruz)

Saturday, May 12, 10:30am—12:15pm

Deadly Geographies: Political Violence, Sovereign Power, and the Making of Selfhood and Territory in Comparative Perspectives, Location: Salon 6

Hafeez Jamali (U Texas Austin): Deadly Dreams: Cultivating Desire in a Fearful and Anxious City in Pakistan

Jaime Amparo Alves (U Texas Austin): Living-in-Death: Black Suffering, Sovereign Power and Racial Anthropophagy in Urban Brazil

Shubh Mathur (New School for Social Research): Maps as Prison: Indian Strategies of Control in the Borderlands

Ahmed Dardir (Columbia U): Nahr al Barid: Necropolitics, Exception, and the Production of Docile Patriots

Jonah Steinberg (U Vermont): Of Labor and Ungrievable Death: Precarious Life and Solo Children on Delhi’s Streets

Organizer: Hafeez Jamali (U Texas Austin)

Life After: Institutional Transitions and the Problem of Social Death, Location: Renaissance Salon

Nandi Dill (NYU): Becoming a Veteran: An Ethnography of the Routes Former Combat Soldiers Take After Service

Leyla Savloff (U Washington): How the Paths Get Chosen: Contribution as Neoliberal Productivity/Life after Social Death

Anna Zogas (U Washington): Mechanism of Injury: mTBI, Medical Uncertainty, and the U.S. Military Healthcare Bureaucracy

Discussants: Catherine Lutz (Brown U) and Zoë Wool (Rutgers U)

Organizer: Leyla Savloff (U Washington)

Trauma Effects: Interpreting the Intersection of Trauma, Psychosocial Interventions, and Humanitarian Praxis, Location: Salon 2 

Sharon Abramowitz (U Florida): Producing Peace Subjectivities: Trauma Effects and Psychosocial Intervention in Post-Conflict Liberia

Neil Aggarwal (Columbia U): Psychosocial or Sociopolitical Rehabilitation? De-Radicalization Programs in the War on Terror

Catherine Panter-Brick (Yale U): Setting a Mental Health Agenda in Humanitarian Settings: Why Resilience Matters

Saiba Varma (Cornell U): We are All Doctor Sahabs': Counselors as Psychiatrists in Indian-Administered Kashmir

Patricia Omidian (Medical Anthropologist and Consultant): Where Trauma is Normal: Psychosocial Interventions that Rebuild Communities in Afghanistan

Discussant: Mariella Pandolfi (U Montréal)

Organizer: Sharon Abramowitz (U Florida)

Life of Things, Location: Grand Ballroom 

Andrea Ballestero (Arizona State U): How do Beets and Pantyhose Make Water (Un)Affordable?

Mary Leighton (U Chicago): Between Agentive Data and Dead Cultures: What is Archaeology's Object?

Tim Choy (UC Davis): Atmospherics: On Substances and Subjects in Suspension

Sarah Wylie (The Public Library for Open Technology and Science; RISD Digital + Media Department): Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science: Open-Source Development of Tools for Grassroots Science

Chris Kortright (UC Davis): Evolutionary Interventions: When Gas Produces the World

Discussant: Stuart McLean (U Minnesota)

Organizer: Chris Kortright (UC Davis)

Saturday, May 12 , 12:15pm—1:00pm

Lunch Break

Saturday, May 12 , 1:00pm—2:45pm

Roundtable on Work, Lives, and Death in Alternative Careers, Location: Grand Ballroom

Charlie Piot and Anne Allison (Duke U)

John Jackson (U Pennsylvania)

Chris Walley (MIT)

Mike Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Chris Kortright (UC Davis)

Brad Weiss (College of William & Mary)

Organizers: Michelle Stewart (U Regina) and Kim Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Generation Ex: National Imaginaries, Moral Pedagogies, and Fantasies of Generational Extinction, Location: Salon 2

Betsey Brada (Princeton U): Chronicle of a Death Forestalled: Reckoning Survival in Botswana’s “Time of AIDS”

Brady G'sell (U Michigan): In Cash Only: The Power of “Maintenance” in South Africa and the Production of Economic Kinship among a Generation of Transition

Brian Horne (U Chicago): Raising the Living by Raising the "Dead": Tuning Post-Soviet Generations to the Music of Soviet Bards

Kathryn McHarry (U Chicago): The Risks of Renaissance: Inversions of Age and Political Legitimacy in Senegal

Aaron Seaman (U Chicago): “Generation Alzheimer's?” Figuring Families in the Midst of an Epidemic

Discussant: Sarah Lamb (Brandeis U)

Organizer: Aaron Seaman (U Chicago)

Life Extended, Location: Renaissance Salon

Jeremy Trombley (U Maryland, College Park): Extending Ecologies: An Anthropology of Life Support Systems

Abou Ali Farman Farmaian (Purchase College, SUNY): Immortalist Selves, Technological Transcendence and Secular Finitude

Jennie Doberne (U Virginia): Family Retrieved: Single Motherhood and Posthumous Sperm Donation in Israel

Stacey Langwick (Cornell U): The Cup of Life: Wondering about the Fidelity of Traditional Medicines in Tanzania

Amy Den Ouden (U Massachusetts, Boston): The Gendered Structure of Life and Death on Reservations: Indigenous Women and Land Rights in Eighteenth Century Connecticut

Saturday, May 12, 3:00pm-4:45pm

Making Moral, Political, and Existential Worlds in South Asia, Location: Salon 6

Robert Desjarlais (Sarah Lawrence College): Poeisis in Life and Death

Naveeda Khan (Johns Hopkins U): Riparians Ponder the Death of the River

Diane Mines (Appalachian State U): The Dead on the Edge of a Forest in South India, and a Place to Live

Margaret Trawick (Massey U): Death and Life in Batticaloa

Discussant: Martha Selby (U Texas Austin)

Organizer: Sarah Lamb (Brandeis U)

Afterlife, Location: Grand Ballroom

Stuart McLean (U Minnesota): Storied Afterlives and Ancestral Imaginings

Meryl Lodge (U Minnesota): The Post-Apocalyptic Potential of Trash: The Sociality of Afterlife in Jill Sigman's Hut Project

Juan Obarrio (Johns Hopkins U): Return to the Landscape of Health

Matthew Watson (North Carolina State U): Newtons and Apes: Questioning Biocentrism and the Multispecies Turn

Monika Gagnon (Concordia U): Posthumous Cinema

Thorbjorg Jonsdottir (California Institute of the Arts): Film Screening: Ocean, Ocean

Organizer: Stuart McLean (U Minnesota)

What Counts as an Emergency and Whose Emergencies Count?, Location: Salon 2

Peter Locke (Princeton U): Surviving the Aftermath: Trauma, Resilience, and Chronic Insecurity in Postwar Sarajevo

Jody Roberts (Chemical Heritage Foundation): Seeing Risk and Planning Response: the Proposed (and Failed) Attempt to Ban Asbestos in the U.S.

Beth Hallowell (U Pennsylvania): “Thinking in an (Obstetrical) Emergency”: Maternal Life, Public Health Planning, and “Planes de Emergencia” in Rural Guatemala

Britt Dahlberg (U Pennsylvania): Asbestos as Problem of the Past, or Present Emergency? Transforming Gradual Contamination into an Urgent and Current Disaster

Grant Otsuki (U Toronto): Death, Decline, or “Reversible Destiny”: Narratives and Embodied Experiences of Emergency in Japan

Discussant: Lundy Braun (Brown U)

Organizers: Beth Hallowell (U Pennsylvania) and Britt Dahlberg (U Pennsylvania)

Kinship Chronotopes, Location: Renaissance Salon

Christopher Ball (Dartmouth College): Avoidance as Alterity Stance: Naming in a Xinguan Chronotope of Affinity

Nicholas Harkness (Harvard U): Intimacy, Status, and the Contradictions of Christian Kinship in South Korea

Janet McIntosh (Brandeis U): The Tempopolitics of Kinship In Contemporary White Kenyan Identity

Shunsuke Nozawa (IES Abroad Tokyo): Engendering Sociality: Phatic Traces in Japan

Danilyn Rutherford (UC Santa Cruz): Kinship and Catastrophe: Global Warming and the Rhetoric of Descent

Discussant: Asif Agha (U of Pennsylvania)

Organizers: Christopher Ball (Dartmouth College) and Nicholas Harkness (Harvard U)

Saturday, May 12, 5:00pm-6:30pm

David Schneider Memorial Lecture, Location: Grand Ballroom

Joao Biehl (Princeton U)

Vinh-Kim Nguyen (U Montréal)

Chair:Brad Weiss (College of William & Mary)

Saturday, May 12, 6:45pm-7:30pm

Reception, Location: L'Apogee