SOC 332 Fall 2014 Life and Death in Modernity

Death is a biological fact. Death is also one of the few universal parameters in and through which social worlds and individual lives are created. Death, in other words, is a primary source of the material and symbolic activities through which humans work to construct, legitimate, and maintain social realities. To attend to "ways of death", then, is to attend simultaneously, if only indirectly, to "ways of life'--the hopes and fears, the ways and wants of a people. In this course we will ask: How, why, and with what manner of consequence has it come to be that, under late-western modernity, the aged, the sick, the dying, the bereaved, and indeed death itself, are routinely "set aside", hidden from view and thus awareness, institutionally sequestered from those of us among the living? We will attend to the historical emergence of the institutional forms that perpetrate this sequestration, and show how they have become tightly articulated with one another: hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers, funeral homes, cemeteries. We will furthermore examine the peculiar bodies of expert knowledge that have arisen in tandem with these institutional forms, among them gerontology, thanatology, and bereavement therapy, showing how they have conspired in the pathologization and (bio)medicalization of aging, death, and grief. Other topics to be explored include the commercialization, commodification, and consumption of health, well-being, youth and longevity, and the emergence of anti-aging medicine, techniques of human optimization, and "popular" rationalities of human life extension.
Class Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: weekly journal entries, film screenings, take-home midterm, class presentations, and a final 12- to 15-page paper to be decided in consultation with the instructor
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Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: preference will be given to Sociology and Anthropology students
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Divisional Attributes: Division II
Other Attributes: PHLH Bioethics + Interpretations of Health
Enrollment Limit: 19
Expected Enrollment: 19
Class Number: 1938
SOC 332 - 01 (F) SEM Life and Death in Modernity Division 2: Social Studies Grant Shoffstall
MWF 11:00 AM-12:15 PM Pareksy 220 1938
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