Recent decades have seen an increasing societal and academic interest in silence around death and dying. With the growing medicalization of death, social scientists argue, dying has become at once further postponed and more difficult to discuss, giving rise to countertrends that encourage an open discussion of dying. While the unspeakability of dying is increasingly considered to be a problem, anthropologists have also nuanced the emphasis on speech in end-of-life care models, pointing out the ways in which people care in silence and showing how different cultural and ethical notions of (not) discussing death and dying meet. Building on these recent discussions, in this talk I attend to narratives and silences around dying in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Drawing ethnographically on the narrative of one HIV-positive Acehnese mother caring for her two critically ill children, I explore expressions in between articulation and non-articulation, the affordances and limits of such multivocal expressions, and the histories that they reverberate. I emphasize the importance of close attention to narrative expressions for hearing silent reverberations. Finally, I reflect on the critical questions that the diversity of modes and moralities of articulating dying raise about the current process of globalizing palliative care.
About the Speaker
Annemarie Samuels is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University, the Netherlands. Her research focuses on end-of-life care, HIV/AIDS, narrative, morality and disaster in Indonesia. She is the author of After the Tsunami: Disaster Narratives and the Remaking of Everyday Life in Aceh (University of Hawai’i press 2019) and she is currently leading the European Research Council-funded project ‘Globalizing Palliative Care? A Multi-Sited Ethnographic Study of Practices, Policies and Discourses of Care at the End of Life.’