Men on Death and the afterlife

For an explanation of our Gendered Conference Campaign, see here.

Death and the Afterlife
22 January 2016

This symposium is an interdisciplinary exchange focused on the recent book Death and the Afterlife, by Professor Samuel Scheffler (New York University). It will bring together perspectives from social anthropology, philosophy, and political theory…It is open to scholars from all fields, and papers will be presented with a broad audience in mind.

Confirmed speakers:

Professor Samuel Scheffler (Department of Philosophy, New York University)
Professor Hallvard Lillehammer (Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London)
Professor Joel Robins (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Dr James Laidlaw (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Dr Jonathan Mair (School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures, University of Manchester)
Dr Paul Sagar (Deparment of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge)

6 thoughts on “Men on Death and the afterlife

  1. Hi there!

    I just thought it would be right of me to leave a quick word of explanation as to how this conference ended up being so skewed.

    First of all, can I say that I appreciate that you are right to be raising this sort of thing as an issue, and in principle I support what you are doing.

    But let me explain the specifics of how i backed myself into this particular corner.

    The idea behind this conference was essentially for me to ‘give back’ to a small working group in Cambridge that’s been organising philosophy and anthropology events in Cambridge for the pas 3 or so years. I.e. rather than constantly attending other people’s events, actually put one on myself.

    I’m a historian of political thought/political theorists by profession, so I only know a very small number of social anthropologists, and even fewer who work in the emergent field of anthropology of ethics, whom this conference is seeking to engage with. Of that small but exciting field, Professors Robbins and Laidlaw are arguably the world’s leading experts – so getting them was a major priority. After that, Jon Mair has been doing some of the most exciting recent work beyond that, so I invite him.

    On the ‘philosophy’ side of the division, I wanted to invite Hallvard Lillehammer because he was an original instigator of the Cambridge philosophy and anthropology exchanges, and his research and interests speak directly to the themes of the event. I wanted to give a paper because, well, it’s my conference.

    The final spot was originally going to be held by a young, very impressive and soon-to-be-world-renowned female philosopher (who I wanted to have speak *because she’s an incredibly impressive philosopher*, and for that reason alone). Unfortunately she ultimately could not commit due to obligations at her present institution (which is not Cambridge). This left me with a dilemma, because I was also told by the host organisers that I was very much at-budget and they would thus not want to fund another external speaker for the final spot. I approached a couple of women philosophers at Cambridge with relevant expertise, but they were unable to commit. This left me with the option of asking people *just because* they were women (and by implication, asking them to make essentially a token appearance), or going for a man based in Cambridge whose research I know well, and who I also am 100% confident will make a strong and interesting contribution to the event. So in the end, I bit the bullet and plumbed for the latter. Hence, Nakul Krishna has taken the final slot.

    I appreciate that it is not an ideal situation. But I am a very junior academic, with a still very limited pool of contacts, trying to organise a conference which draws together scholars from largely outside my own area of expertise. In sum: it’s sometimes harder than it might seem to get things to align the way you’d want them to.

  2. Hi Paul,

    It’s nice to hear from you, and I hope you don’t feel blamed by being mentioned in the GCC. As Anne says, that’s not what we’re about. We’re calling attention to a pattern, which arises in a variety of ways. Sometimes good people trying to do the right thing also contribute to it, and that’s a really important thing to understand. Sometimes it’s even unavoidable, which is all the more reason for everyone to try hard to avoid it when we can. Have a great conference, and thanks for supporting our goals! (By the way, on the “token woman” issue you may want to read Anca Gheaus:

  3. Paul, if you are still open to adding any women – although I appreciate that by now it is probably unfeasibly late in the day – I can suggest a number of people who work on feminist philosophy and death. In fact there has been quite a strand of thought arguing that there has been an over-focus in the history of philosophy and western thought more broadly on death, in contrast to birth. Just email me if you want to know more. In fact, excuse self-advocacy, I wrote a paper called ‘Natality and Mortality’ in Continental Philosophy Review 2000 – it might give you a flavour of the sorts of discussion. Funnily I discussed it with a group organised within CRASSH earlier this year – but Cambridge is vast and diffuse!

  4. Alison, could you have given the wrong date for your article? There is one by you in CPR with that title, but it’s 2010.
    Our readers might well be interested in it, so I’m copying the abstract below

    In this article I rethink death and mortality on the basis of birth and natality, drawing on the work of the Italian feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero. She understands birth to be the corporeal event whereby a unique person emerges from the mother’s body into the common world. On this basis Cavarero reconceives death as consisting in bodily dissolution and re-integration into cosmic life. This impersonal conception of death coheres badly with her view that birth is never exclusively material but always has ontological significance as the appearance of someone new and singular in the world of relations with others. This view of birth calls for a relational conception of death, which I develop in this article. On this conception, death is always collective, affecting all those with whom the one who dies has maintained relations: As such, our different deaths shade into one another. Moreover, because each person is unique in virtue of consisting of a unique web of relations with others, death always happens to persons as webs of relations. Death is relational in this way as a corporeal, and specifically biological, phenomenon, to which we are subject as bodily beings and as interdependent living organisms. I explore this with reference to Simone de Beauvoir’s memoir of her mother’s death from cancer. Finally I argue that, on this relational conception, death is something to be feared.

    I wish I had known about your article as I was trying to find a way more congenial to me to think about why death could be feared. See

  5. Let me also mention the article “Death as a Social Harm” by Lori Gruen in Southern JP, 2014; the abstract:

    Lately there has been increased attention to the philosophical issues that death raises, but the focus remains individualistic. Death is philosophically puzzling. Death is thought to be bad for the individual who dies, but there is no one there to experience death as a harm. In this paper I argue that the harm of death is a social harm. Of course, social relationships are fundamentally changed when any member of a social group dies. Death is harmful for those left behind. The problem is not just that social relations are harmed by the loss of a loved one. The very meaning and value of our lives and projects are shaped by social relations. By recognizing death as a social harm that many animals, human and nonhuman, experience, we may be better prepared for the work of mourning.

    Paul, one very much hopes that a conference on death that has no women would still have a vigorous representation of this social view. Indeed, with the spread of disciplines represented, one would expect it does.

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