24 September 2010

PhD workshop - call for papers

Call for papers for the Workshop/PhD course:

Governing the Dead

Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Danish Research School in Anthropology and Ethnography and The Research School of Regional Studies (Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies)
 Copenhagen, 17-18th December, 2010


How are dead bodies - the corpses we all eventually turn into - governed; who governs them; and with what effects? These are the basic questions that this conference poses with the purpose of using this specific field for an exploration of issues of authority, sovereignty and state formation. Corpses have some special features which make them particularly relevant for studies of these issues. Being both subjects and objects they expose the living to existential problems of death as well as the meaning and precariousness of life, yet the materiality of the corpse poses very practical problems of disposal and represents opportunities for the performance of sovereignty.

Therefore the transition from life to death is usually regulated and ritualized by some kind of authority in ways that are specific to the cultural, political and social contexts in which death occurs. Ideas of im/proper treatment and disposal of dead bodies are essential for the understanding of what distinguishes humans from other species, and are closely linked to the re/production of existential ideas regarding life and after-life.

In modern societies, religious and cultural authorities share a stage with state-authorities trying to govern the corpses through complexes of power and knowledge. However, regulation and ritualization of the corpse and its disposal have often become explicitly political issues of contestation and confrontation. Likewise, corpses may be used consciously by political agents to forge change, as in the case of reburials of prominent political figures (Verdery), the law-making display of corpses in public places by governments or revolutionary movements (Siegel, Kernaghan), or the denial of proper burial to political outcasts, as in the case of suicide bombers in Afghanistan.

The conference will privilege historical, comparative and political perspectives on corpses but will be open to other approaches and interpretations as well, as long as they deal with the issue of authority and power in regard to the government of corpses. A preliminary list of interlinked issues to be discussed at the conference comprises:

Corpses in processes of state formation: In which ways are processes of state formation linked to the problematization and government of dead bodies through evolving law complexes regarding public health (e.g. transport and disposal of corpses), regulation of criminal investigation, identification (e.g. morgues and death certificates) and other issues? In which ways have these forms of state regulation been articulated with political struggles and the practices of non-state authorities? And how do such struggles impact the work of mourning?

Corpse in power-knowledge complexes: How has the development of different disciplines such as hygiene, epidemiology, (forensic) medicine, statistics, genetics, been associated with the above mentioned practices of state and non-state authorities. How have these complexes altered the means through which such authorities attempt to occupy the 'crossroads' of life and death?

Corpses in the making and territorialisation of political community: How have corpses been used for political purposes, positively through public display, memorials, public burials and reburials, or negatively through the absence, disappearance, and hiding of dead bodies.

Corpse, identity and contestation: How have methods and politics shifted historically in regard to the identification of dead bodies (e.g. in post-conflict exhumations, identification of dead, undocumented trespassers of sea- or desert borders). What images are produced, and how does the specific manner of public disclosure or concealment intervene in political communities at the level of affect?

Absences and breaches: Which phenomena may be associated with situations in which norms regarding proper disposal of bodies are disrespected, wilfully or not; when corpses are absent; or when authorities are absent, do not arrive ‘in time,' or are unwilling to take charge of the dead bodies?

Invited speakers and organizers

Professor John Borneman, Princeton University
Professor Antonius Robben, Utrecht University
plus film presentation by Filip de Boeck, Leuven University

Finn Stepputat, Senior Researcher, DIIS
Richard Kernaghan, Associate Professor, University of Florida, Gainesville
Cristophe Robert, Lecturer, Hong Kong
Ravinder Kaur, Associate Professor, Copenhagen
Regnar Christensen, PhD candidate, Copenhagen


The 2 days workshop/PhD course will take place at DIIS and aims at having 20-25 participants, including max. 8 PhD candidates from each of the participating PhD schools. It will include presentations by invited speakers, the organizers as well as other participants and the PhD candidates. The workshop will aim at producing a volume or thematic journal issue, as well as exploring possibilities for interdisciplinary, comparative research projects on the governance of dead bodies.

Deadline has passed