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technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Pain, Personhood, and the Periviable Entity: Perspectives from Abortion Providers and NICU Medical Professionals

keywords:

threshhold

death

life

Fifteen years after Sharon Kaufman and Lynn Morgan’s influential annual review article on the anthropology of the beginnings and endings of life, anthropological studies of life and death have moved to the center of medical anthropological inquiry. Beginnings and endings are good to think with, posing questions about personhood, belonging, sociality, value, and the role of technology in remaking life forms. Recent anthropological scholarship has shown how ethnographic accounts of life’s beginnings and endings can elucidate broader processes of social reproduction, rupture, and change. Most studies, however, center on either of these two poles rather than considering them in tandem. Taking Kaufman and Morgan’s (2005) review as a point of departure, this panel considers the analytic possibilities afforded by thinking about beginnings and endings together, from a critical, comparative lens. Contributions engage ethnographic material from both ends of life’s spectrum to show how simultaneously attending to these poles can enrich understandings of life and death. Biopolitics offers one possible framework for bringing these foci into conversation with one another, yet it is not the only one (cf. Han and Das 2016). We invite consideration of how biology and technology organize social life in many cultural settings, as well as theoretical approaches that trouble the increasing reliance on biologized notions of life and death. How do life’s beginnings and endings serve as flashpoints for cultural tensions between traditional and modernity? How do religious and political entities like the Church and the state regulate threshold forms of personhood in different settings? How can insights from anthropologies of grief and bereavement help us when death comes at the beginning of life? How do fieldwork experiences of death and reproductive events•among researchers and participants•infuse our theorizing on life and death? Potential ethnographic foci include, but are not limited to, abortion, assisted dying, palliative care, technologies of reproduction and life-prolongation, childbirth and maternal death, funeral and mortuary rituals, organ transplant, and brain death. By looking at beginnings and endings of life in tandem, we seek to shed light on some of the most important global conversations unfolding at the intersection of medicine, law, and bioethics today.

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