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Thanatic Ethics: The Circulation of Bodies in Migratory Spaces

International Conference:

Bodies on the Edge: Life and Death in Migration.


Venue: Maison Française of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Dates: April 28 to 30, 2022

Language: English

Deadline for submitting proposals: 15 December 2021

Notification of acceptance: 15 January 2022

  • This conference will be held in person and participants will be expected to travel to Oxford at their own cost.

Full description of the Thanatic Ethics Project: https://www.thanaticethics.com

Project Co-convenors:

Dr Bidisha Banerjee, Centre for Popular Culture in the Humanities, the Education U. of Hong Kong

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

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


Organisation Committee:

Dr. Justine Feyereisen, Ghent University/Maison Française d’Oxford

Dr. Marie Godin, COMPAS-RSC, U. of Oxford

Dr. Alessandro Corso, ODID, U. of Oxford

Prof. Judith Rainhorn, Maison Française d’Oxford


Constantly surveilled yet paradoxically unseen, the bodies of dead migrants follow the tracks of the living on migratory routes. On their perilous journey to foreign lands, migrants come close to death or encounter it. Once settled, some of them yearn to be buried with their ancestors in their homeland, a few prefer the soil where their children grew up. The Thanatic Ethics project explores the social implications and aesthetic representations of the circulation of bodies in migratory spaces. After a series of Webinars and two Workshops (October 2020 to September 2021), the Oxford Thanatic Ethics conference seeks to address the liminalities of life and death in migratory spaces.

While recurring images of mass arrivals have fostered representations of migrants as disposable subhumans, selective migration policies blur the limits between the living and the dead. In 2011, the left-to-die-boat (Heller, Pezzani, Studio 2012) drifting for 14 days under the constant scrutiny of coast guards and war boats, exemplifies the necropolitics of migration management (Mbembe 2019) that distinguishes between those who live and deserve to remain alive, and those who don’t. These deaths are no longer just deaths in migration but “deaths of migration” (Babels 2017, Kobelinsky 2017), i.e. deaths that are a product of violent migration policies. The becoming-dead of migrants, or the humanitarian spectacle following migrant deaths at sea (Tazzioli and Stierl 2021), is also a policy tool: it is used as a deterring argument in anti-emigration campaigns in sending areas or as a justification for so called ‘anti-smuggling policies’ and border control that cause systematic human rights violations. Treating migrants as vulnerable subjects to be protected, migration policies are increasingly imbued with the rhetoric of humanitarian reason (Fassin 2011). The protection of the migrant body has ironically become a tool for confinement, bordering.

Death is not the end as the presence of those who passed away continue to haunt the existence of the living. Their absence and the emptiness they have left, imbue the social ties of those who mourn them. Body repatriation and associated migratory rituals are a way of filling this void. But what if the body has never been found? What if it has been lost in the depth of seas or in the midst of deserts? “Unritual” (Loichot 2020) art as well as online and offline acts of mourning have flourished so that those lost would not fall into oblivion: multivarious art performance, art exhibitions and literary production, but also memorials and public events  set up by families of missing migrants, diasporic communities, as well as pro-migrant organisations, attempt to make the disappearance of migrants visible to the public.

Circulating bodies become part and parcel of their biosphere, enmeshed in an organic and inorganic continuum with other living organisms, a wider relational cosmology of life forms (Kodjo-Granvaux 2021), from the smallest viruses (COVID 19) to complex plants and animals, but also material objects and raw matter. This is not only the case for migrants’ bodies but also for migrating bodies, their commodified body parts circulating on the market for organ trafficking.

From the becoming-dead of the living on migration routes and in (necro-) policies, to the ongoing traces left by the dead among the living, this conference addresses the manifold liminalities between what is alive and what is not, in all its materiality and immateriality.

We welcome contributions from the Humanities, Social Sciences and related disciplines (multi and transdisciplinary perspectives will be favoured) on the following themes (though not exclusively):

  • Methodologies addressing the relation between life and death: life writing, digital humanities, migration death databases, etc.
  • Policy narratives and measures of migrant death in anti-emigration campaigns and migrant death counting;
  • The humanitarian reason and migrant vulnerability in migration management;
  • Necropolitical ecologies: the relation between migrants and their environment on migration routes;
  • International organ trafficking; the integrity of the human body, dead or alive;
  • Liminalities between organic and non-organic matter, human and non-human;
  • Contemporary rituality (body repatriation, burial committees), its economics, its administration and politics (insurance schemes, debts to be paid, death certificate to be issued etc.);
  • Contemporary unrituality: collective, militant and artistic projects meant to dignify the disappearance of those left with no trace;
  • Spectrality: ghosts, spectres and zombification in the postcolonial perspective on migration;
  • Living-dead identities: usurpation of the identities of the dead.
  • Migrant deaths in times of Covid-19: Migrants have been over-represented in Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths; at the same time, migrants have also been portrayed as threats (as ‘corona spreaders’) potentially causing the death of ‘others’. How are colonial legacies being reproduced with the bodies, lives and deaths of migrants within and outside the borders?

We invite contributors to send their proposals (a 250-­word abstract, title, author’s name, a 150-word bio, and contact information) to the conference email address: thanaticethics@gmail.com.

Each presentation should be 20 minutes (followed by discussion time). A selection of papers will be considered for publication.


Webinar – Gamification of Economy: The Aesthetic Labour and Emotional Labour in Making Taobao a Theme Park Spectacle

Date: 25 October 2021 (Monday)

Time: 15:30 – 17:00pm

Speaker: Dr. Ling Tang

Language: English


Gamification of Economy: The Aesthetic Labour and Emotional Labour in Making Taobao a Theme Park Spectacle



In contrast to the “rational” Amazon which demonstrates an intensification of McDonaldization of the economy in the digital economic realm (Ritzer, 2018), this talk discloses how Taobao crafts itself into an emotion-fuelled theme-park for online shopping. Taobao wishes to establish itself as a platform full of adventurous products and unexpected encounters. Based on my one-year ethnography with businesswomen in the Internet age, many of whom Taobao shop owners, I show how they need to do an extensive amount of aesthetic labour and emotional labour in order to make the shopping experience more fun and entertaining for customers. This echoes Byung-Chul Han (2017)’s notion of the gamification of the economy where production and consumption are made into games of instant rewards and punishment.


Ling is an artist academic who considers sociology as art and vice versa. Her research interests includes Internet studies, Gender studies, Chinese studies and innovative methods. Her academic writings are published in journals including Journal of Sociology and British Journal of Chinese Studies. Besides, she also produces music, fine art pieces and public academic cultural products.


Zoom Link: https://eduhk.zoom.us/j/98246400615?pwd=T3dIaVdtZkFZUDFZNlJnTjIwSERvUT09

Zoom Meeting ID: 982 4640 0615

Passcode: 462291

Thanatic Ethics: The Circulation of Bodies in Migratory Spaces

Shocking images of migrant bodies washed ashore, epitomized in Ai Wei Wei’s re-enactment of the Syrian infant Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a beach in Lesbos, have almost become a macabre shorthand for migrant deaths on foreign shores as more and more refugees undertake perilous sea crossings and other hazardous inland journeys, in search of a better life. We may wonder what happens to these bodies, what happens to these bones; are they repatriated back to the homeland? If not, are they in a cruel twist of fate, simply buried in mass graves on the foreign shores they tragically failed to reach while alive? How are the victims memorialized, if at all? This also raises related questions about the immigrant’s desire for a home burial. How is the longing for home manifested as a longing to die in the homeland? What about those who are criminalized and refused a burial? How is the right to die linked to citizenship and human rights in the context of migration and diaspora?

“Thanatic Ethics: The Circulation of Bodies in Migratory Spaces” seeks to explore these questions as they are articulated in literary and visual culture, and across disciplines.

Migration and Translation: Some Reflections on THE ARRIVAL by Shaun Tan
Date: 11 Jun, 2019 (Tue)
Time: 14:00 – 15:30
Venue: B3-LP-06, Tai Po Campus, EdUHK
Language: English
Funded by Tin Ka Ping Foundation, this seminar conducted by Professor Sharon Tzu-yun Lai (National Taiwan Normal University 國立台灣師範大學) will compare the similarity and difference between migration and translation through this wordless novel, and also address several issues evolved around translation, communication and culture. Professor Lai is visiting the Centre for Popular Culture in the Humanities during June 11-14. The seminar will be conducted in English and is happening on June 11 at the Tai Po Campus of The Education University of Hong Kong. Please refer to the following for further details. For inquiry/registration, please contact Dawn Zhuang (lzhuang@eduhk.hk).
Migration and Translation: Some Reflections on The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Migration has become a recurring topic in translation studies. Both migrators and translators face language barriers, strange objects and customs, uncertainty and identity conflicts. In his award-winning graphic novel The Arrival, Shaun Tan narrates beautifully a story of migration without captions. Professor Lai will compare the similarity and difference between migration and translation through this wordless novel, and also address the following questions: Do we need translation all the time? Does translation help or hinder communication between cultures? What are the gain and loss of translation as well as migration?


Reading Shaun Tan in Hong Kong:

Literature, Pedagogy, and Community


6-7 DECEMBER 2019 / Education University of Hong Kong

Abstracts due 31 July 2019


Abstracts are invited for a two-day conference centered on the work of author, illustrator, and artist Shaun Tan. We invite contributions that focus on Tan’s work from the point of view of literary and visual studies, on teaching Tan’s work across disciplines and curricula, and on Tan’s work in the context of community reading. Proposals for academic presentations, teacher talks or workshops, and panel discussions in any of these interrelated areas are very welcome.


Participants might consider:


  • Any aspect of Tan’s work, including the media and genres Tan has favored, his major themes, and the ways in which his works have been read. Contributors might explore how Tan’s distinctive vision can be understood alongside other forms of graphic narrative, children’s literature, or visual art.


  • Any aspect of how Tan’s work has been taught, including its usefulness in language, literacy, literature, drama, history or arts education and other social science education. Tan’s work also foregrounds the power of visual language, and might be discussed in terms of education for visual literacy, multimedia literacy, or other emerging domains.


  • Any aspect of how Tan has been read and discussed in communities. Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival was chosen as the book for the first year of 我城我書 / One City One Book Hong Kong, a community reading project initiated by the Centre for Popular Culture in the Humanities (EdUHK). Events related to the book have been held in the literary, artistic, and education communities, and the book has been widely discussed and enjoyed throughout the city in 2019.


Selected participants will be invited to contribute papers to an edited collection of essays to be published by Springer, as part of the Book Series Cultural Studies and Transdisciplinarity in Education, which has been included in the Scopus Index.


Call for Grant Applications

我城我書 / One City One Book Hong Kong would like to foster the development of city-based community reading projects in Asia. If you would like to found a “One City One Book” or “Big Read” project in a city in Asia, please consider applying for a stipend to attend this conference. The stipend, in the amount of HK10,000, is intended to facilitate the attendance of one or two persons who are in a position to develop a community reading project, so academics, educators, and librarians are particularly invited to apply. Please send a CV or resume, along with a one-page description of your vision for your project, to onecityonebook@eduhk.hk, by 31 July 2019.


Abstracts are due to conference organizers by 31 July 2019. Please send your proposal title, a 200-word abstract, and a brief biographical statement to onecityonebook@eduhk.hk.

Film Salon: Love in Troubled Times | 電影沙龍:亂世戀曲
The Centre for Popular Culture in the Humanities (CPCH) is looking for fellow movie lovers at EdUHK, who enjoy viewing and analyzing films, and would like to help this platform grow. The upcoming Film Salon: Love in Troubeld Times will begin on 01/04 (Monday) with Farewell my concibune.
這是由學生所策劃的電影沙龍,現邀請教大電影愛好者逢星期一與我們一起欣賞和分析電影。本次電影沙龍:亂世戀曲將首先於 4 月 1 日(星期一)放映《霸王別姬》