Death sentences : the modern ordering of mortality

Zohréh Bayat Rizi
2005
This project examines the introduction of death as a political-economic issue and its discursive problematization as a subject of sociological inquiry since the late seventeenth century. I draw from the works of Foucault, Baudrillard, Agamben, Bauman, and Parsons, among others, who argue that, in the past few centuries, the economy of death has been transformed from one that emphasizes the symbolic significance of death to one that treats death discursively as a medical and public health
more » ... . This transformation (or tension, in my view) is underscored by the discovery of an interconnection between the way people die, on the one hand, and political order and economic prosperity, on the other hand. By the 'ordering of death' I mean a social framework for defining, dealing with, and regulating mortality. The notion of 'death sentences,' in the title, refers to the four commandments (orders) of the discursively regulated death: thou shalt not die violently, thou shalt not die prematurely, thou shalt not kill thyself, thou shalt not die an undignified death, all of which are synthesized in the commandment: thou shalt not die an un-orderly death. The commandment to die an orderly death is the common denominator and the positive expression of the four negative commandments governing modern death. 'Sentence' implies that such ordering is discursive, carried through sentences, words, figures, texts, and statistical tabulations. It also indicates that as in the ritual of death penalty, the management of death has is still to some extent symbolic. Hobbes' problematization of violent death as a political-economic concern, rather than a metaphysical or existential issue, was central to this process. His instrumental approach to knowledge greatly influenced discursive problematizations of other forms of death such as premature death and suicide first and foremost through the works of his immediate followers, John Graunt and Sir William Petty. By quantifying the existential experience of mortality, these authors played a [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0092768 fatcat:zjazk5cimba33groitylm6c7s4