CHHS research seminar (online) – Dr John Troyer

We were joined by Dr John Troyer on the 6th of May who gave a talk entitled ‘When Everything Dead is New Again: Rethinking the Current Death and Dying Movement’.

Troyer asserted that the future of death is almost always somehow about a present moment forgetting the past. In the post-WWII English-speaking First World, social movement debates about the future practice of dying as well as the concept of death itself began crystallizing in the 1970s. An enormous body of death research and discourse emerged over forty years ago that addressed class, gender, disease, and end-of-life acceptance issues. 

Indeed, but for the emergence of twenty-first century digital communication technology and social media networks, 2020’s discussions around death and dying more or less mirror the same 1970s issues. 

His question for the CHHS seminar was not why this has happened (discourses are forgotten and overlap all the time), rather he wanted to ask how a decade’s long production of death debate and research that specifically addressed the future of death (amongst other topics) seemingly vanished. Or, more than vanished, is almost entirely excised from contemporary discussions around the death taboo hypothesis, critiques of state intervention on the dying, and concepts of ‘natural death.’

Some key discursive points did emerge in this analysis. The 1970’s never seem to fit twenty-first century future-nostalgia for a ‘better time to die’ when compared to the Victorian era. The social and political movements from forty-years ago are also rarely identified as having made death a consciousness raising issue for future generations.  Finally, the emergence of HIV/AIDS during the 1980’s heavily shaped future understandings of 1970s death discourse.

If thinking about death’s futures can teach scholars anything it is this: all things dead will eventually become new again, including the 1970s.