During the first decades of the twenty-first century, the proliferation of life as a generative possibility has become marked by the spectre of death, closure, denial and ends. Ours is an era of precarity, extinction, militarised inequality, a boundless war on terror, the waning of democracy and emancipatory struggle, and rising consciousness of consumer complicity in industrial scale animal suffering. Artificial intelligence and post-human technology-flesh interventions have become sources of existential threat to be secured against, rather than means of freeing, or otherwise expanding life. Mbembe (2003) first developed the notion of necropolitics in relation to ‘assemblages of death’, zones where technology, economy and social structures bind together to reproduce patterns of extreme violence. Following Foucault, he envisaged a distribution of the world into life zones and death zones. While we can readily identify zones of life and death on these terms, the imaginaries of death have increasingly colonised life zones.
This conference seeks to embrace this moment in history in all its roiling complexity, challenge and specificity. The panels, keynotes and creative streams of Life in an age of death asks what accounts for this current interest in the spectre of Death in the anthropological imagination? What sorts of life—social, cultural, technological, creative—emerge in spaces pregnant with death and other life-ending spectres? What new horizons of fear, hope and possibility emerge? What kinds of new social formations, subjectivities and cultural imaginaries? What social and cultural forms might an affirmative biopolitics, where the power of life is regained from the spectre of death, take? What can anthropology specifically bring to these emergent and often-interdisciplinary zones of urgency? How might our methods, theories and orientations be re-tooled and re-energised for these shadowed times?