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Workshop 2

International Conference

Death “Matters”: The (Im)material and the Sensory in Death in Migration

(Photos) (Recordings)

Venue: The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Dates: January 7-9, 2024

Language: English

Deadline for submitting proposals: October 30, 2023

Notification of acceptance: November 2023

  • This conference will be held in person and participants will be expected to travel to the venue at their own cost, obtaining their visa as applicable. 

  • A few travel bursaries will be considered on a case by case basis for outstanding proposals.


Full description of the Thanatic Ethics Project:


Project Co-convenors:

Dr Bidisha Banerjee, International Research Centre for Cultural Studies, The Education University of Hong Kong

Dr Thomas Lacroix, Sciences Po-CERI / Maison Française d’Oxford

Dr Judith Misrahi-Barak, EMMA, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, France

Opening Event:

We are delighted to announce that the conference will open with an immersive sound installation titled Spaces of Exception by the award winning, NYC based sound artist Freya Powell. Highly relevant to the conference themes, the installation uses the voice as a medium to speak to the ambiguous loss experienced as a result of ‘Prevention Through Deterrence’, a US immigration policy along the US-Mexico border.

After several series of webinars, online and on-site workshops, and two international conferences between October 2020 and October 2023, this international, transdisciplinary project is now seeking proposals for Conference #3 to be held at the Education University of Hong Kong, January 7-9, 2024, entitled ‘Death “Matters”: The (Im)material and the Sensory in Death in Migration’.

This conference builds on work done during the first two conferences in Oxford and Kolkata in 2022, the focus of which was, respectively, “Bodies on the Edge: Life and Death in Migration” and “Response, Repair, Transformation”. We will also follow up on the Workshops, particularly Workshop #4 entitled “In Search of Accountability” while also developing new insights. 

In the sustained attention given to the political and social, individual and collective dimensions of death in migration, one sometimes neglects aspects that pertain to the materiality of the bodies engaged in the process of migration, whether the migrants reach their destination or not. Whether dead before arrival or very much alive, bodies will often bear the marks/wounds of migration (skin, organs, limbs). If the body is a vector of the de-territorialization at stake, it is also a vector of the anticipated re-territorialization. But what if the re-territorialization doesn’t happen, if the body cannot be found? What if the physical rituals of burial or cremation cannot be performed, if the corpse cannot be touched and embraced one last time and the funeral music cannot resound? If food cannot be shared during the wake?

In this third conference, we wish to examine the complexities attached to the materiality / immateriality of the body as those concepts are ensnared in death in migration. Moving beyond the body of the dead, we want to address the sensory dimension of death in migration at large, the ambiance of rituals, remembrance and mobilisation and how they have been addressed in art and research. This may pertain to the sensory experience of dying a violent death; or it may involve the act of witnessing - through seeing or hearing - death in migration. Whether in the process and representation of dying in migration, or in the response that is provided by the families and the community of the deceased, senses play a crucial role.In the present context of increased surveillance at sea and on land, of digital, virtual and dematerialized processes at all levels, to what extent might a sensory approach to migrant death provide a radical new lens that may force us to adjust our perspectives and renegotiate our relationship to the world? We seek to revisit issues pertaining to death in migration such as rituality, art exhibitions and ‘happenings’, activists’ mobilisation or grieving using the lens of the sensory (visual, auditory, haptic, and the subjective states they generate). 

Here, we build on a crucial question that was also raised at the previous conferences: how can literature, film, theatre and the arts prevent the bodies of the dead migrants from being reduced to immaterial objects in all senses of the word? Are artists and writers able to re-endow the bodies of the migrants with a certain form of extended life, albeit not breath? How can they contribute to the necessary and urgent re-foundation of our presence in/to the world? 

Whether in the context of contemporary migrant deaths or that of enslaved people, finding and reclaiming objects that belonged to the deceased, objects one can hold in one’s hand, seems crucial. But what are the stakes of preserving the (im)material archives? How are survivors and descendants grieving today, aided by personal objects and bodily movements? We will also focus on different methodologies for re-translating immateriality back into material presence. Such a retranslation, we argue, is crucial to defy a regime of border-policing that works through the denial or even the disappearance of migrant bodies lost at sea or on land. Connecting the role of the senses to thanatic ethics, we ask whether sound or visual studies, or even digital humanities, can be pertinent in bearing witness to migrant deaths and working towards more accountability and social justice.

Being focused on such an emotionally challenging topic as “Thanatic Ethics”, it would also be possible for the speakers to explore alternative ways of presenting their work and / or research that would be more sharing than presenting, adopting non-traditional modes of involving the participants. It may include open mic interventions, open discussions, group panels with participants coming from different disciplines who plan to prepare their panel collectively, artistic or staged presentations, creative workshops, performed talks, interactive and / or multilingual conversations, etc. Through these alternative modalities we hope to reflect the multi-directional entanglement of the themes broached in the organisation of the conference itself. In this case, a time requirement for consideration should be included in the proposal. Conventional 20-minute papers, followed by discussion time, are, of course, very welcome too, as are combinations of both.

We invite contributors to send their proposals. For more details, please refer to the "Call for Papers" page here.

here to download the programme and abstracts of the conference.

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