Building on work on post-Fordist affect, we argue that the group-based and person-centered forms of production in mining and milling, respectively, produce contingent conceptualizations of culture, identity, and personhood and, in turn, of dying and death. The “communal solidarism” characteristic of post-mining milieu engenders senses of dying and death entailing a communal merging of erstwhile individual selfhoods. In post-milling milieu dying and death are conceptualized as individuated, but subject to social evaluation. The evaluative criterion in this regard is ability to “perform” dying and death in ways that reflect the valorized essence of local culture, identity, and personhood, “resilient autonomy.”
In this introduction to the special issue, Life’s End: Ethnographic Perspectives, we review the field of anthropological studies of death and dying. We make the argument that, largely because of its sub-disciplining into the larger field of the anthropology of religion, ritual and symbolism, the focus of anthropological research on death has been predominantly on post- rather than pre-death events, on death’s beginnings rather than life’s ends. Additionally, we argue that an anthropological aversion to the study of dying may also lie in the intimacy of the discipline’s principal method, ethnography. Contrastingly, we argue that this very methodological intimacy can be a source of insight, and we offer this as a rationale for the special issue as a whole, which comprises eight ethnographic studies of dying and social relations at life’s end from across Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America. Each of these studies is then summarized, and a rationale for their presentation around the themes of “structures of dying,” “care for the dying,” “hope in dying,” and “ending life” is presented.