Title: Managing Uncertainty: Concluding Remarks
Authors: De Boeck, Filip ×
Vaughan, Megan #
Issue Date: 2010
Conference: Managing Uncertainty. Death and Loss in Africa edition:2nd international conference location:WISER, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa date:8-10 April
Abstract: Filip De Boeck (KULeuven) and Megan Vaughan (Cambridge, UK) offered a summary and concluding remarks to this two day conference, during which the film 'Cemetery State' (2009 was also screened, followed by a question and answer session with the film director Filip De Boeck.
Description: Undoubtedly, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has focused attention on the ways in which death is managed and understood in African societies. Although the demographic and economic impact of HIV/AIDS has yet to be fully grasped, it is already evident that wide scale AIDS mortality has profoundly influenced reproductive decision-making, reconfigured kinship structures and domestic economies of care, altered livelihood strategies and exacted an immense toll on already overburdened public health systems. More subtle but no less significant has been the emergence in many parts of Africa of new discursive frameworks through which the relationship between life and death, to the dead (and diseased) body, and to the dying process can be both imagined and expressed.

However, other dynamics beyond those captured by the HIV/AIDS epidemic have been pivotal in the shaping of contemporary African death cultures. The rapid pace of urbanisation on the continent, often in the context of sustained political marginalisation, violence and limited economic opportunities, has created within many African cities liminal spaces in which the boundaries between the dead and the living have become eroded. Furthermore, Africans’ changing patterns of mobility and migration have necessitated complex negotiations, often conducted across great distance, concerning ritual authority and the ‘proper’ resting place of the dead. Increased communication networks and the recent spread of transnational migrant communities across the continent and beyond have multiplied the pathways through which death, and its associated costs, may be experienced. In some parts of Africa, the re-invention of ‘traditional’ funerals and the resurgence of indigenous spiritual authority have helped fill a perceived moral gap created by political and institutional ineffectiveness. At the same time, changes within the practice and organisation of Islam and Christianity exert a powerful yet uneven force.

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore these ‘ways of dying’ in Africa within specific regional contexts, and to meaningfully locate contemporary dynamics within older, historical processes of contestation and change. We encourage submissions across the broad range of humanities and social sciences. We aim to encourage sustained dialogue among scholars working throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and to connect academics to practitioners, activists and organisations in the public health sector and civil society, many of whom constitute the ‘front-line’ in mediating African responses to death and the dying process.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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