Documenting the meanings of life and death in the Americas 
Laura Rival (University of Oxford)
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Cecilia McCallum (UFBA - Universidade Federal da Bahia)
Life and Death
Roscoe 4.3
Wednesday 7 August, 9:00-10:00, 14:00-15:00 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

This panel interrogates the attribution of life and death by native peoples in different contexts, including ritual and mythical ones. We are looking for ethnographies that make sense of how native Americans engage with the vitality of nature.

Long Abstract

Our panel proposes to build upon recent discussions on animism, personhood and the meaning of life to interrogate the attribution of life and death in a wide range of social and cultural contexts. Much recent ethnography illustrates the creativity and agency of the other-than-human world, the rich communication between human and other-than-human social persons, and the limits of extending personhood as a category of human-like subjectivity to non-humans.

Recent scholarship gives us a good understanding of which objects, animals or plants acquire human-like qualities - and when; what the relationships between humans and non-humans consist of; and what trans-specific humanity actually means. However, we know little about what life qualities humans share with non-humans, or what images, techniques or experiences are mobilized to express culturally what organic life is all about. We know that indigenous peoples tend to apprehend life as birth, but what about conceptions of death as a process that regenerates life? How are concepts of life, death, and animation related? Which practical actions (cooking, weaving, etc) best describe the workings of vital processes? Can things be alive? Is loss part of life? Is matter lifeless? Is the earth thought about as a living organism? Can there be life or death without transformation? How does biological life relate to human life? Is human wellbeing in any way connected to nature's ecological functions?

We invite presentations that tackle at least one of these questions through detailed ethnographies of Amazonians, AfroAmericans, campesinos, and other native peoples of the Americas.

Accepted papers: