Bodies from below : decomposition, death certificates, and the politics of 'natural' death

Authors
Nelson, Lee Claiborne
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Other Contributors
Malazita, James
Campbell, Nancy D. (Nancy Dianne), 1963-
Schaffer, Eric D. (Guy)
Alaimo, Stacy
Issue Date
2020-08
Keywords
Science and technology studies
Degree
PhD
Terms of Use
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
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Abstract
This dissertation focuses on human decomposition research within the forensic sciences, in particular forensic entomology, and how the death certificate Manner of Death category ‘Natural Death’ effects forensic research and functions to naturalize environmental injustices. After attending to the historiographic absence of bodily decomposition and various historical practices that absented the decomposing body or decomposing agents of the body, I turn to the conceptual inventions and practices of forensic entomology that emphasize and engage the decomposing body. Such historical absenting of the decomposing body contributed to the construction of the siloed and exclusionary conceptualization of the political and philosophical ‘human body.’ Because forensic entomology and human decomposition research in general only emerged within the last 50 years, the epistemic engagements with human decomposition represent a unique event of articulation whereby various nonhuman and environmental aspects of the body are avowed that had hitherto been historically disavowed. Through analyzing the categories, logics, and relationships between different sections of the modern death certificates, I find that certain types of injuries – particularly those related to environmental toxins – are incapable of being recognized as injurious.
My research involved textual analyses of forensics and governmental health literature and documents, participant observation field work and interviews with forensic entomologists, training in decomposition research and entomology, and historiographic research of death and bodily practices. I drew from STS and adjacent literature on laboratory and field sciences, epistemic practices involving nonhuman life, and Feminist New Materialist scholarship concerned specifically with human-nonhuman corporeality and toxicity.
Description
August 2020
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Department
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Publisher
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Relationships
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
Access
CC BY-NC-ND. Users may download and share copies with attribution in accordance with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. No commercial use or derivatives are permitted without the explicit approval of the author.