“They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more”
(Beckett, Waiting for Godot)
Birth and death are more alike than one thinks. Both seem to be closest to sheer nature,
but as such are also among those moments most densely saturated with cultural inscriptions, most heavily ‘mythologised’, and politically contested.
The conference aimed at taking stock of both the dominant and alternative discourses of birth and death prevalent in contemporary British culture.
This was done under the broad headings of medialisation and medicalisation (both engendering what some have called a ‘new visibility’ of the two phenomena)
as well as (de)rationalisation and choice. The speakers were from the fields of thanatology, sociology, anthropology, midwifery, media studies, cultural studies
and activism and their papers analysed the biopolitical, legal and social implications of current and historical practices of dying and giving birth.
Papers also concentrated on the normalisation, naturalisation and ritualisation of birth and death as well as on their representations in British art, film, and on TV.
A selection of papers will be published in the Journal for the Study of British Cultures and a volume on the representation of birth and death.
“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane /
[…] I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead”
(The Rolling Stones, “Jumping Jack Flash”)