SOC 332
Life and Death in Modernity Fall 2016
Division II
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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 (bio)medicalization of aging, death, and grief. Other topics to be explored include the commodification and consumption of health and well-being; the emergence of anti-aging medicine and “popular” rationalities of human life extension; cryonic suspension, zombies, and the paranormal.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 1050
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
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
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Sociology and Anthropology students
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PHLH Bioethics + Interpretations of Health

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