Sophie Williamson

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Sophie J Williamson's MPhil/PhD Art research project.

Being-With-Dying: Living with agency through the 7th mass extinction

This PhD will investigate through curatorial practice the novel idea of being-with-dying as a tool to reshape current attitudes to ecological catastrophe. I will explore being-with-dying as a position that faces mortality but rejects paralysis of eco-anxiety (Morton), insisting on the possibility of agential approaches to shape more liveable futures amid the 6th Mass Extinction (Haraway).

Hand holding a piece of coral reef on a white background
Sophie Williamson

How can practices of palliative care teach us how to nurture holistic planetary futures? How can bring our personal experiences of loss to planetary care, for future generations, human and more-than-human?

Established theories of more-than-human worlds (Haraway, Tsing, Kohn) have yet to adequately address kinship across geological (Yusoff) and planetary (Latour) timescales, or beyond the boundary of the living and the non-living (Povinelli). How can a new position of being-with-dying help us to produce new perspectives, affinities and practices that are adequate to the urgency of this subject?

Drawing from feminist and afro-futurist speculative writing (Le Guin, Chambers, Jemisin) and building on storytelling methodologies to address the 6th mass extinction (Haraway), I will establish being-with-dying as both a theorical position and lived practice to expand the current limitations of temporal scale and practiced emotive engagement within the established fields of eco-anxiety, geo-trauma and cross-species kinship.

As with Anthropocene practices, expanded curatorial practice is innately interdisciplinary and is uniquely positioned to bridge disparate fields, contexts and practices (Rogoff). While curatorial care practices have tended to focus on the local, my PhD will explore being-with-dying as an effective inter-scalar curatorial strategy that can be deployed through structures that enable critical juxtaposition, such as exhibitions, dialogical programmes, publishing, research forums and broadcasting. These will present findings from fieldwork and discursive programmes, where I will bring together a broad spectrum of collaborators from differing perspectives in arts, sciences (i.e. paleo-geneticics, permafrost sciences, indigenous cryomicriobiologists, fertility/bio-tech, ecologists and paleotologists), life practices (i.e. palliative care, agriculture, fermentation) and inherited knowledges (i.e. death doulas, indigenous elders, land stewards, Japanese carpentry), recontextualising theoretical positions through learning from these specialist and situated life practices that have yet to significantly contribute to these academic debates.


  • Ros Gray
  • Anna Colin