Life in three deaths: Thanatopolitical biopoiesis and militaristic nationalism

Rachel Shields, Joshua I. Newman, Christopher McLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Taking up the critical theorization of death as an important, though ambivalent, popular hermeneutic, this article attempts to expand upon existing arguments by examining death in the popular framings of an ever-growing U.S. militaristic biocitizenship (Mbembe, Giroux, Butler, Murray, Arendt). By understanding death as posing an existential crisis to collective and individual (social) life-as it is constructed through formations of moving embodiment-we argue that certain forms of death are required to be both knowable and of meaning to define the boundaries of a living body politic and the defense thereof. Whereas death within late modern society has become both increasingly knowable (through advances in medical knowledge) and anomalous (through the biopolitical attribution of most deaths to faulty cells, tissues, or organs, failures that are theoretically preventable), death that is relegated to zones of war and achieved in the service of nationalist ideals is theorized here as particularly certain and non-ambivalent. To understand this complex configuration of life, we interrogate three military deaths: that of the soldier who dies in battle, the living-death of the veteran, and the death of soldier who commits suicide. We argue that such deaths are both necessary and productive features of the protracting military State; soldiers who return from combat-bringing with them the trauma of dismemberment and the re-memberment of their deathly encounters-carry the potential to reproduce, and challenge, the hegemony of a contextually specific militaristic biocitizenship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-437
Number of pages13
JournalCultural Studies - Critical Methodologies
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2014


  • Biopolitics
  • Communitas
  • Heterotopia of death
  • Suicide
  • Thanatopolitics


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