Death, dying and différance: anthropological conversations with cancer patients
(University of KwaZulu Natal)
Paper short abstract:
Death and dying are proximal and disjunctive tensions for cancer patients. Meanings attached to dying and death form part of an imaginary of life, pain and suffering within a shifting landscape of hope and disillusionment, pain and relief.
Paper long abstract:
The body has been put forward as a "surface" on which commitments of culture are inscribed. This is true even at the point of dying, and at death. While poststructuralist discussions have demonstrated how knowledge of the body and the body itself is constituted in specific cultural and historical circumstances, feminist anthropologists have shown how women's bodies have been appropriated by medicalized discourses and practices that have reconstructed the diseased body. Death and dying are tensions on "body" and "person" that are both proximal and disjunctive in terms of what they mean to cancer patients. As dying does not necessarily precede death nor does death simply result from the process of dying but may be regarded as part of an imaginary of life, pain and suffering within a shifting landscape of hope and disillusionment, pain and relief. This paper uses narrative analysis and works through the ethnographic stories of a sample of 25 women with cancer as they share how cancer and medical discourse inscribe their bodies and their sense of who they are, while also revealing that the way they feel about death is different to the way they feel about dying. The ethnography reveals the construction of a différance that governs the social production of their experience of cancer on their bodies. This meaning is in turn "deferred" through a chain of signified treatments that set up an oppositional relationship between dying and living.
Disjunctions of deathscapes: ways of suffering, dying, and death