Toward a sociology of finitude: life, death, and the question of limits

Theory and Society 50 (6):891-934 (2021)
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Abstract

Progressing beyond the given has been a key modern tendency. Yet modern societies are currently facing the problem of how to put limits on progress, expansion, and growth, live within them, and preserve (rather than transcend) the present. Drawing on economic sociology scholarship on valuation and morality in economic life, this article develops and applies the term economization to analyze the enactment of limits on progress. The question of end-of-life care—when to stop medical efforts to prolong life, postpone death, and advance the scientific frontier—serves as an illustrative empirical case that sheds light on limit-setting in general. My analysis of this case combines historical, ethnographic, and in-depth interview data on US palliative care clinicians, who specialize in making life-and-death decisions in acute care hospitals.

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