(P25)
The dead in social life: death in the (re) constitution of sociality of the still living
Location Chancellery Building, A1-014
Date and Start Time 07 Dec, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Damian Grenfell (RMIT University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

This panel invites contributions that will examine how forms of contemporary forms of sociality between the still living are shaped by death, both where there are strong beliefs in ancestral spirits and an after-life, and also where secularism dominates associated beliefs and practices.

Long abstract

In many communities and societies the dead are a central element to the social connectedness of the still-living, albeit in different ways. The experience of the death of a person can be important in the constitution of new social relationships and the reconstitution and reconfiguring of existing ones over extended periods fo time (and potentially invoking multiple forms of temporality). Whether it be focusing on post-conflict societies that have experienced high numbers of unnatural deaths from warfare, or cases of natural death that can occur in any society, or other circumstances again, this panel invites participants to engage in questions of contemporary sociality and the relations of the still-living as forged by the experience of death. This can include the ways in which death informs the various points of interconnection between the still-living in predominantly secular societies through the lens of the role of religion, or, in particular where there are beliefs in the potency and agency of spiritual actants, particularly ancestors. As per the last point, this panel seeks to investigate forms of social connectedness between the still-living (at an empirical, conceptual and/or ontological level) so that even when considering the relationship between those who still 'draw breath' and the ancestral domain, the focus nevertheless for this panel remains on the social relations of the still living.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Death and reciprocity in East Timor

Author: Andrew McWilliam (Western Sydney University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

This presentation considers how ritual management of death makes visible the relational networks of a household's social field, and through continuing practices of sacrificial invocation and commensality with the dead, generates mimetic conditions for protective ancestral blessings and well-being.

Long abstract

In contemporary Timor-Leste the overwhelming majority of people identify as Catholic and participate in a rich tapestry of religious events and life cycle transitions that punctuate the annual calendar; from baptisms and confirmation, to the worship of saints and holy days. But across the mountains and hinterland of the island, widespread conversion to Catholicism only occurred following the Indonesian invasion in 1975 when many Timorese were obliged to relinquish long standing ancestral religious practices in favour of an approved world religion. In the decade and more since independence, however, there has been a widespread revival of indigenous religious practices, particularly in rural areas, where sacrificial veneration of ancestors and the memorialisation of the dead has been a preoccupation for many poor households working to rebuild their livelihoods and communities. These developments do not deny Catholicism but are best viewed as complementary strategies of religious invocation designed to attain common ends. In this presentation I consider how the ritual management of death makes visible the relational networks of a household's social field, and through continuing practices of sacrificial invocation and commensality with the dead, generates the mimetic conditions for protective ancestral blessings and well-being. I draw on aspects of Fataluku ethnography to illustrate the argument.

Transformation through crisis: the role of drug overdoses and overdose response in reshaping relationships, dissolving stigma, and reconfiguring place

Author: Andrew Whalley (La Trobe University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

In this paper I will be examining how drug overdoses - and particularly overdose responses - are recurring events in a local public injecting scene that generate and reinforce unorthodox relationships between 'alcohol and other drug' workers and people who inject drugs in the area.

Long abstract

Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1993) once referred to stigma, in its fullest expression, as a 'death sentence'. This idea is clearly understood by the staff of a small 'alcohol and other drug' program in an inner-Melbourne neighbourhood, where it is certain that many of their clients will die. Such deaths occur through a variety of causes and in a variety of situations. However, in this paper I will be focussing on drug overdoses - and particularly overdose responses - as recurring events that are both generative and reinforcing of the unorthodox relationships formed between the workers and clients of the service. Through becoming intimately involved in these and other everyday crisis events, these groups form ambiguous but aligned relationships wherein the spoiled identity of the 'drug user' is (mostly) dissolved. Further, these relationships shape and inform the practices and very structure of the program, wherein all parties work to subvert the traditionally conceived hierarchies and boundaries that typically serve to maintain drug-related stigma. In this way, these events and relationships give rise to a heterotopia: a sort of 'counter-site' that maintains a set of relations to dominant social spaces, whilst simultaneously working to "suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that [it] happen[s] to designate, mirror or reflect" (Foucault 1986, p. 24). Thus, the marginalisation, discredit and dehumanisation of users in mainstream society is variously challenged, forgotten or inverted in such a way as to develop a wholly other place in which heroin users are integrally respected and meaningfully involved.

Multivalent death: understanding the significance of death for the still living in Timor-Leste

Author: Damian Grenfell (RMIT University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

Death marks a vital moment in the re/constitution of social relations in contemporary Timor-Leste. Death is important for the still living where the multivalent character of ritual and remembering is a central factor in the regeneration of social ties.

Long abstract

Ancestral spirits are so fundamental to basic conceptions of a good life in Timor-Leste. The ancestral spirits have the power to shape the condition of the still-living; sickness, poor fortune, calamity and even death are commonly attributed to ancestors. Following war, where the remains of thousands have been lost and the familial networks of the living ruptured, paying recognition to the dead becomes an immense challenge for those still with 'breath'. This paper considers the dead of war, but extends the analysis to the impact on the still living of deaths that occur from both natural and unnatural causes outside of warfare. By examining patterns of exchange, labour (production), communications and organisation (such as authority and regulatory roles) as they connect people across practices pertaining to understanding (ie the cause of death, what happens at death), conveying (the movement of the body), mortuary practice and familial ritual, this paper will explore the argument that it is the 'multivalent' dimensions of death that sustains the importance given to it in Timorese society. Rituals for instance may be described as 'syncretic' but in reality comprise distinct elements that speak to different needs; some are spiritual, but death also embeds social relations in a period of acute social change. This paper will then argue that death marks a vital moment in the re/constitution of social relations because it speaks to different forms spiritual regeneration for the still living, significantly but not only customary, as well as fulfilling of other social demands.

Ingesting ancestors: witchy practices of honouring the dead

Author: Emma Quilty (University of Newcastle) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

This paper will explore how the dead (in the form of ancestors) are ontologically intertwined in the everyday lives of young women practicing witchcraft. I argue that stories about ancestors are learned via a process of ingestion.

Long abstract

This paper explores how ancestral worship is ontologically intertwined in the everyday lives of young, Australian women practicing witchcraft. I will present ethnographic reflections, together with interview data from this study that reveals the spiritual and material practices used by witchy communities. Stories about witchy ancestors are learned via a process of ingestion. I put forward the idea that ingestion is an embodied practice through which young witchy women develop their values, sense of self and ways of relating and connecting to others. This process of ingestion emerges in a number of ways. Material traces of ingestion are visible through altars the young women create and maintain in their homes that often feature photographs and vestiges of family members who have passed on. Hosting a dumb supper is another form of ancestor worship that utilises processes of ingestion. This event takes place during the witchy festival commonly known as Samhain. This particular festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. As a spiritual endeavour, witchcraft provides these young women with avenues for exploring and challenging their sense of self. During the dark half of the year, death is used as a thematic and symbolic device to facilitate group processes of transformation.

Dead in exile: negotiating belonging across borders

Author: Andrey Damaledo (Kyoto University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

This paper examines dead and burial practices across three inter-generational Timorese groups in Indonesian West Timor. In spite of their socio and political variations, I argue that dead remains a powerful process to renegotiate belonging and rebuilding relationship across borders.

Long abstract

Informed by Robert Hertz’ transformative process of double burial that changes the nature of the relationship between the dead and the living, I seek in this paper to focus on diverse practices of mortuary rites in exile. By exile, I specifically refer to pro-Indonesian East Timorese who left East Timor and decided to stay in West Timor after their historic Referendum. I draw upon ethnographies of dead in Indonesia and Timor-Leste to examine comparative case studies of burial practices across three inter-generational groupings: pre-1999 pro-integration leaders, during-1999 former member of militia group, and post-1999 youngsters growing up in Indonesia. In spite of their socio-economic and political variations, I argue that dead remains a powerful process to renegotiate belonging and rebuilding relationship across borders. Garden of heroes, public cemetery, individual front yard and the emerging dead body transport business serve as transitory sites that represent East Timorese separation from their homeland as well as their homecoming journey to be reunited with their ancestors.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.