"Birth and Death", Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, 18-20 November 2010
The focus of the conference will be on birth and death in contemporary British culture. Both birth and death seem to be essential and existential anthropological facts, but both are at the centre of cultural discourses and practices ranging from religious rituals and artistic representations to medical technologies.
Currently, medialisation and medicalisation produce an (alleged) new visibility of death and birth. In parallel with the rise of technological regimes, there is a counter-movement discernible towards nature and metaphysics – be that the re-invention of birthing rites, hospices and home births, or attempts to re-install religion as a discourse which can truly make sense of life and death.
We invite papers in English of 20 minutes length dealing with either an aspect of birth or of death in contemporary British culture (no special rewards for trying to cover both). Topics may include (but are not limited to) the following:
• the historical dimension of contemporary discourses of birth and death: why do 'natural birth practices' and swaddling return? Which good old days are evoked when discussing 'natural' death (from the priest at the bedside, to the room full of family members)?
• the new visibility of birth and death in movies, novels, plays, on TV and in newspapers: what role do the many guidebooks, TV programmes and celebrity pregnancies play in the construction of birth? Which role do celebrity deaths (for instance, of Princess Diana or Big Brother star Jade Goody) play for the perception and construction of death?
• which normative discourses are employed to make sense of death ("smoking kills") and to control birth (when is a life "worth living"?)? Which cultural practices undermine these norms?
• what are the counter-movements to such developments? What role do hospices for humane deaths, home births and radical midwives play in British culture?
• what cultural strategies exist that try to contain or assimilate the traumatic shocks of birth and death, from ghosts and zombies to jokes and media clichés?
• is there a particularly British way of turning birth and death into medical-pathological, technical, and discursive practices?
• which underlying ideologies and myths are discernible? In how far are gender, ethnic and class asymmetries inscribed in birth and death? What are the economics behind modern birth and death? Who profits, who foots the bill?
• do contemporary changes in constructions of birth and death indicate a shift in the overall 'structures of feeling' and mental patterns?
• are there new theoretical approaches in cultural studies which are particularly suited to come to grips with the phenomena of birth and death?
Please send your abstracts (of about 300 words) by 1 June 2010 to:
Anette Pankratz / Claus-Ulrich Viol