Death, Modernity, and Public Policy

A Blog on Current Events, Commentary, and Cultural Critique about Death/Dying/Policy/Representation from George Washington University anthropology and international affairs students

We are a group of anthropology and international affairs students who are writing a blog for our course, Death, Modernity, and Public Policy for the Fall 2010 semester at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Death is often viewed as a fixed biological event, but across cultures and through history the definitions, practices, and regulation of death are something much more fluid. How has the invention of the artificial ventilator impacted an entire organ transplant industry and redefined death as death of the brain? Why are some modern day cultures only recently legalizing euthanasia when practices around assisted dying have existed since at least the beginning of oral history? What are the implications of one woman’s cells for mapping the entire human genome, cloning sheep, or other projects of genetics today? How do concepts of modernity, markets, and policy combine to create new forms?

In this blog, we will explore in ethnography and in policy a snapshot of modern-day treatments of death and dying from around the world. We will explore common cultural themes as well as historical particulars, including concepts of good death, suicide taboos, denial of death, sequestration of the elderly and chronically ill, social death, medicalization, and new technologies at the margins of life. We will take a critical look at key treatments of life and death and the implications of these treatments for health policies and social practices at the end of life.

We invite you to read and comment on our research and current event commentaries. See

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