War can create a massive amount of death while also straining the capacity of states and civilians to cope with disposing of the dead. This paper argues that such moments exacerbate contradictions between three fields and “economies” (logics of interaction and exchange) – a political, market, and moral economy of disposal – in which order and control, commodification and opportunism, and dignity are core logics. Each logic and economy, operating in its own field, provides an interpretation of the dead that emerges from field logics of normal organization, status, and meanings of subjects (as legal entities, partners in negotiation, and subjects with biographies and dignity). Using the case of the Blockade of Leningrad, with its massive amount of civilian death, this essay examines how local authorities followed an expedient logic to maintain order; how state workers charged with disposal followed an instrumental logic of gain; and how civilians tried to maintain a logic of dignity but were forced by desperation to act contingently and instrumentally. The analysis suggests a broader application of field theory beyond organizational communities; how culture in fields operates via entities of valence (anchors); and the need to make emotions and social distance clearer in frameworks of fields, culture, and practice.

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Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V. Article first published online: 7 JAN 2015. DOI: 10.1016/j.poetic.2014.12.003

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Hass, Jeffrey K. "War, fields, and competing economies of death. Lessons from the Blockade of Leningrad." Poetics 48 (January 7, 2015): 55-68. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2014.12.003