The contemporary episteme of death

Bendle, M.F. (2001) The contemporary episteme of death. Cultural Values, 5 (3). pp. 349-367.

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Abstract

The twentieth century saw the emergence of a new episteme of death that fundamentally revolutionized values relating to mortality and life. Previously this revolution has been seen primarily in terms of the sequestration and denial of death, but it is necessary to go farther and recognize that these are really just an aspect of the industrialization ‐the Fordism ‐ of death. This takes two major institutional forms: the militarization, and the medicalization of death. Both ensure that death is administered on an industrial scale and in accord with institutional and bureaucratic imperatives and values. The total mobilization of the Great War was the prototype that revealed the potential of this approach. With the subsequent medical revolution of the middle decades of the century the approach was quickly rationalized and refined into a new episteme of administered death, with 'administer' being understood in its twin senses of 'to manage' and 'to dispense' — the two characteristic orientations to death in contemporary society. This new episteme quickly displaced traditional values derived predominantly from religious, philosophical, mythological and traditional sources and has advanced far beyond their responsive capacity, as the many interminable debates around issues of bioethics reveal. While this new episteme might enhance the human condition, it also has great potential for the impoverishment of the human spirit, and for the further reduction of human beings to the status of mere components and functions to be administered within medico‐technological systems that are themselves parts of an increasingly globalized economic system.

Item ID: 13169
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: death/dying (physical aspects); social theory; sociology
ISSN: 1467-8713
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2012 01:23
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160805 Social Change @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950499 Religion and Ethics not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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