On 14th July some of the QDS Network researchers had a pleasure to present their work in the two-session panel ‘Queering Ecologies of Death’, proposed by Prof. Patricia MacCormack (Anglia Ruskin University, UK) and Dr. Marietta Radomska (Linköping University, SE), at the SLSAeu GREEN conference that took place on 13-16 June 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Link to the full programme.
Link to the panel schedule.
Below you may find the summary of the panel which consisted of the speakers: Dr. Marietta Radomska, Prof. Patricia MacCormack, Dr. Line Henriksen (University of Copenhagen, DK), Dr. Tara Mehrabi (University of Turku, FI), Prof. Margrit Shildrick (Stockholm University, SE) and Prof. Nina Lykke (Linköping University, SE).
RADOMSKA & MacCormack
& Henriksen & Mehrabi & Shildrick & Lykke
PANEL: Queering Ecologies of Death
‘Green’ as a concept has become a shorthand for ‘ecology’, understood as that which refers to ‘home’ or ‘environment’ with all their constituting relationalities. It not only evokes a reflection on or concern with human and nonhuman entities and their milieus, but also implies a set of discourses (public, political, scientific, philosophical) that focus on the climate change and contemporary ecological crises. The latter, more often than not, entail the degradation and diminution of food and water resources, which make certain habitats unlivable.
Along with ‘climate migration’, these processes lead to the death of individual organisms, populations and species extinction, prompting us to reconsider our ways of understanding and relating to death, dying, extinction and annihilation.
While bioscience and biotechnologies underline and expose interdependency, commonality and relationality as key characteristics of life shared by all organisms, Western thought and cultural imaginaries tend to draw a thick dividing line between human and nonhuman animals and other organisms, notably visible in the context of death. The interdisciplinary field of Death Studies (in its conventional form) gives precedence to the death of human individuals as its main research subject, examined primarily through psychological, anthropological and sociological lens. Western philosophies approach death in a double way: as a process common to all organisms and an event that distinguishes the human from other creatures (e.g. Heidegger  2010; Calarco 2008).
Yet, in the context of discussions on the so-called Anthropocene – a distinct geological epoch we live in, generated by ‘human activities on earth and atmosphere, and at all, including global, scales’ (Crutzen & Stoermer 2000, 17) – it becomes evident that the stories of species extinction, animal death and annihilation of nonhuman life, broadly speaking, are deeply entangled with the histories of colonial violence, genocide and oppression/elimination of the non-normative human other.
Environmental science and the humanities examine more-than-human death primarily in the form of species extinction, its narratives and imaginaries. Simultaneously, human death is classified, investigated and valued separately: approached through a cultural, social or biomedical lens, it appears as either ‘the end’ of individual’s existence (in religious discourses taken as a step towards an afterlife), or as something to postpone or eliminate by medical means. However, if we look at the human corpse itself, it is an (always already) non/human assemblage of entities, materialities and processes.
Against this background, what strikes is the lack of sufficient theorising of the messy intimacies between materialities of human and nonhuman kind that constitute the processes of death, dying and annihilation. In other words, our cultural understandings require conceptualisations and narratives attentive to multiplicitous relationalities and entanglements of the living and non-living, and human and nonhuman or, what we call, ‘ecologies of death’.
This transdisciplinary panel brings together several different perspectives, encompassing such fields as philosophy, art, cultural studies, monster studies, science and technology studies, gender studies and disability studies, in order to ask what it means to queer ecologies of death. The speakers will not only concentrate on the processes and materialities of death and dying, and living and non-living in a more-than-human world, but also investigate how such enquiries go beyond, unsettle and subvert given norms, normativities and binaries that govern our approaches to and understandings of death, dying, extinction and annihilation. In particular, the
panelists will focus on the following set of questions:
How can ecosophy (a thought informed by entangled intimacies of the living and non-living beyond green) and bio-philosophy (thinking life in its relation to that which takes it beyond itself) attend to multiplicitous difference and relationality constitutive of death and dying as well as its ontology and ethics?
Queering Ecologies of Death: Part 1
While thinking with and through the contemporary practices of eco- and bioart, Marietta Radomska (Linköping University) will ask how such forms of art explore and enact the
relations between the human and the environment in the context of the annihilation of life on Earth resulting from human activity? How can doing biophilosophy through art contribute to a less anthropocentric, non-normative and different understanding of death? And, in return, what kinds of ethics does it mobilise?
Patricia MacCormack (Anglia Ruskin University) will focus on how abolitionism (animal rights at its extreme) can rethink entanglement as grace through a leaving be, while also opening the ecosophical world to freedoms unperceived by anthropocentric apprehension. Furthermore, she will ask how human extinction through a cessation of reproduction or advocation of anti-natalism could further abolition to become
a form of queer death activism that is both vitalistic and caring, creative and jubilant?
Line Henriksen (University of Copenhagen) will look at the ways contemporary ecocritical discourses bring forward the questions of disappearance, absence, annihilation, trace and void. More specifically, if ecology is a home/household
(oikos) – she asks – is it haunted? By bringing together hauntology and ecotheory, she will discuss what it means to think spectrality as part of ecological systems, thereby delving
into the transparency of the apparition as much as the traditional ‘green’ of ecology.
Queering Ecologies of Death: Part 2
Drawing on her ethnographic work in a Drosophila Melanogaster laboratory, Tara Mehrabi (University of Turku/Karlstad University) will explore how, in the context of
contemporary bioscience, life (e.g. of animal models) – no longer scientifically ‘valuable’/’useful’ – becomes ‘waste’. How does this particular ecology of death challenge and queer the boundaries of natural/artificial, inside/outside, nature/laboratory,
safe/hazardous and living/non-living beyond green? How does it problematise human exceptionalism and binary logic?
Margrit Shildrick (Stockholm University/University of Toronto) will enquire about death (organic/cellular/singular/species) in the context of the research on michrochimerism
beyond the human. She will anchor these questions in the problematics around the ‘greening’ of the gut and eradication therapy.
Finally, Nina Lykke (Linköping University) will concentrate on how human death and the human corpse can be rethought from the perspective of inhuman forces, understood
in an immanence philosophical sense, and redefined against the background of its transcorporeal belonging to a queer planetary kinship of vulnerable more-than-human-bodies. What are the eco-ethical implications of such a redefinition?