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Normalising death in the time of a pandemic

journal contribution
posted on 2022-01-14, 00:09 authored by Marc TrabskyMarc Trabsky
This paper examines a tension during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic between discourses of death as an anomaly and techniques for normalising death as an inevitable outcome of life. It contends that the technology of registering a death in the Global North in 2020 was conditioned upon differentiating between the normal and the pathological, standards and variations, and an average and excess. Indeed, the registration of a death depended on the creation of a new universal nomenclature for ascertaining causation, which excluded various circumstances of a person’s life in order to stabilise SARS-CoV-2 as a normative category for classification. The paper thus reveals how in the time of a pandemic, the technology of registration can be utilised to pathologise specific kinds of death, while unproblematically reifying the concept of a normal death. It argues that what the initial phase of COVID-19 exposes, particularly though the productive tension between discourses of death as both an anomaly and inevitability, is that normalising technologies are inextricable from how a panoply of institutions determine what deaths should be counted at all.


Publication Date



Oñati Socio-Legal Series





Article Number



16p. (p. 540-555)


Onati International Institute for the Sociology of Law



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