The First International Queer Death Studies Conference:
“Death Matters, Queer(ing) Mourning, Attuning to Transitionings”
4-5 November 2019,
Stine Willum Adrian (Aalborg University, DK)
Patricia MacCormack (Anglia Ruskin University, UK)
Kira O’Reilly (independent artist, IE/FI)
C. Riley Snorton (University of Chicago, USA)
In the context of the current environmental crises, the degradation of natural resources transforms certain habitats into unliveable spaces, while social and economic inequalities and geopolitical, social and symbolic violence expose differential vulnerabilities of communities and individuals. Both global and local mechanisms of necropolitics (Mbembe 2003) exert their power over the lives and deaths of populations, making some deaths more grievable than others (Butler 2004). Simultaneously, unsustainable living conditions and environments contribute to increased mortality rates and the extinction of species.
While natural sciences emphasise the interdependence of human and the environment, Western cultural imaginaries keep drawing a dividing line between humans and nonhuman others, particularly visible in the context of death. The division is combined with a dual approach to death – human death in particular – namely, Western cultural frameworks tend to present human death either as a step towards a disembodied afterlife (Christian tradition), or as something to be eradicated in favour of survival (secular biomedical perspective).
Arguably, the questions of death have been present in Western philosophy since antiquity. While these perspectives explore both ontological and axiological aspects of death, they are primarily concerned with the death of human individuals, seen from the perspective of the sovereign subject. Furthermore, questions around death, human remnants and the cultural and medical aspects of dying have been studied from anthropological, sociological, historical, and psychological perspectives, next to the biomedical ones. Since its establishment as a research field in the 1970s, Death Studies has drawn attention to the questions of death, dying and mourning as complex and multifaceted phenomena that require interdisciplinary approaches.
Yet, the engagements with death, dying and mourning constitutive of conventional Death Studies’ research, have left many questions open insofar as they have often been governed by the normative notions of: the subject; continuing bonds; family relations and communities; rituals; and experiences of mourning, and bereavement. Individuals who do not fulfil the conditions of the normative idea of the human (usually imagined to be white, middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gendered, able-bodied) tend to be ignored in dominant stories on death, loss, grief and mourning. Moreover, the current environmental crisis seems to produce a growing consciousness about living in ecological and social proximities to death, which also gives rise to demands for more diverse, nuanced and inclusive stories of death, dying and mourning.
The emerging field of Queer Death Studies (QDS), which the conference creates an arena for, aims to fill these gaps in traditional Death Studies, by attending to issues of: diverse cultural, socio-political, historical, and economic conditions; entangled relations between human and the environment in the context of the Anthropocene; differential experiences of marginalised communities and individuals excluded from the hegemonic discourses on death, loss, grief and mourning, associated for example with the heteronormative model of family bonds; and, contemporary forms of necropolitics: mechanisms of power that force certain bodies into liminal spaces between life and death.
Against this background, QDS emerges as a transdisciplinary field of research that critically and (self) reflexively investigates and challenges conventional normativities, assumptions, expectations, and regimes of truths that are brought to life and made evident by death, dying and mourning. By bringing together conceptual and analytical tools grounded in feminist materialisms and feminist theorising broadly speaking (e.g. Braidotti 2006; MacCormack 2012), queer theory (e.g. Haritaworn, Kuntsman & Posocco 2014) and decolonial critique (e.g. Fanon 1965; Mignolo 2011), QDS strives to advance methodologies and understandings that critically and creatively attend to the problem of death, dying, and mourning in the current environmental, cultural, and socio-political contexts.
In order to search for broad inspirations for alternative articulations and stories which queer, that is, unpack and question the normativities (Chen 2012; Sandilands & Erickson 2012) that often frame contemporary discourses on death, dying and mourning, The First International Queer Death Studies Conference Death Matters, Queer(ing) Mourning, Attuning to Transitionings mobilises a transdisciplinary engagement involving not only academics, but also activists, artists and other practitioners. In the context of the conference, to queer issues of death, dying and mourning means to unhinge certainties, “undo normative entanglements and fashion alternative imaginaries” beyond the exclusive concern with gender and sexuality, often associated with the term “queer” (Giffney & Hird 2008, 6). In particular, the conference calls for papers within the following three overall themes: (1) death matters and materialities, (2) queering mourning, and (3) attuning to transitionings run through both days and all keynote lectures.
Official conference website: https://www.kau.se/en/centre-gender-studies/date/first-international-queer-death-studies-conference-death-matters
Call for Papers: see here.
Braidotti, Rosi. 2006. Transpositions. Cambridge and Malden: Polity.
Butler, Judith. 2004. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.
Fanon, Frantz. 1965. A Dying Colonialism. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove Press.
Giffney, Noreen, and Myra J. Hird. 2008. “Introduction: Queering the Non/Human.” In Queering the Non/Human, edited by Noreen Giffney and Myra J. Hird, 1-16. London: Palgrave.
Haritaworn, Jin, Adi Kuntsman, and Silvia Posocco. 2014. Queer Necropolitics. New York: Routledge.
MacCormack, Patricia. 2012. Posthuman Ethics: Embodiment and Cultural Theory. Surrey and Burlington: Ashgate.
Mbembe, Achille. 2003. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15 (1): 11-40.
Mignolo, Walter D. 2011. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham: Duke University Press.