This essay reviews recent anthropological attention to the “beginnings” and “endings” of life. A large literature since the 1990s highlights the analytic trends and innovations that characterize anthropological attention to the cultural production of persons, the naturalization of life, and the emergence of new life forms. Part I of this essay outlines the coming-into-being, completion and attenuation of personhood and how life and death are attributed, contested, and enacted. Dominant themes include how connections are forged or severed between the living and the dead and the socio-politics of dead, dying, and decaying bodies. The culture of medicine is examined for its role in organizing and naming life and death. Part II is organized by the turn to biopolitical analyses stimulated by the work of Foucault. It encompasses the ways in which the biosciences and biotechnologies, along with state practices, govern forms of living and dying and new forms of life such as the stem cell, embryo, comatose, and brain dead, and it emphasizes the production of value. Much of this scholarship is informed by concepts of liminality (a period and state of being between social statuses) and subjectification (in which notions of self, citizenship, life and its management are linked to the production of knowledge and political forms of regulation).


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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