Congratulations to Frances Norwood, assistant research professor in the GW Department of Anthropology, for being selected to receive the 2011 Margaret Mead Award for her book, The Maintenance of Life: Preventing Social Death through Euthanasia Talk and End-of-Life Care – Lessons from The Netherlands,” (2009).
The Margaret Mead Award is presented to a younger scholar for a particular accomplishment such as a book, film, monograph, or service, which interprets anthropological data and principles in ways that make them meaningful and accessible to a broadly concerned public.
The Maintenance of Life is about how people in The Netherlands address social death and modern dying. It is based on long-term ethnographic study with general practitioners, end-of-life patients and their family members around the process of home death. Norwood finds that euthanasia in practice is predominantly a discussion, which only rarely culminates in a euthanasia death. In fact, “euthanasia talk” serves a palliative function, staving off social death by providing participants with a venue for processing meaning, giving voice to suffering, and reaffirming social bonds and self-identity at the end of life. Those who engage in euthanasia talk instead are more active participants in Dutch social networks at the end of life.
Norwood uses ethnographic excerpts to open each chapter and then tells the stories that make up end-of-life from the perspective of patients, families, and their physicians. She also weaves in theory from Michel Foucault and Clive Seale.
Her book illuminates concepts of discourse and social death through ethnography in a way that is accessible to scholars, policy makers, and the pubic. She also takes a critical look, from a cultural perspective, at Dutch euthanasia policy and broader end-of-life practices in comparison with policies and practices in the United States.
The Maintenance of Life offers those on any side of the end-of-life debate and those from around the world valuable lessons for maintaining life at the end of life. It was recently translated into French and is now also available as Mourir un Acte de Vie (2010).
For other coverage of Frances Norwood’s research on this blog, please see here.