Accepted Paper:

Embracing and distancing the materiality of death through cremation  
Michael Arnold (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

Funerals organised around burial or cremation engage with the body and with personhood through a sequence of rituals. These rituals orchestrate a dance of intimacy and distancing, and are present in both burial and cremation, but each form orchestrates different possibilities for the dance.

Paper long abstract:

In this presentation I talk about the implications of cremation and burial for the embrace and distancing of the body and the personhood of the deceased. Among other things I observe that in the performance of the rituals and the material work associated with burial and cremation, the body and the personhood associated with that body are made to pass through numerous moments of intimacy and separation.

In both burial and cremation, the presence of the body and the presence of personhood waxes and wanes through the viewing, where the deceased is visible for the last time, to the gathering of the mourners, the entry of the coffin bearing the body, through the eulogies and tributes, culminating in a series of rituals known as the committal, the dismissal, the final disposition, then the final disposal of the body - if indeed a final disposal occurs.

In comparing the cremation and the burial as techniques, I argue that though the same rituals may occur, each technique opens space for the performance of a significantly different committal, final disposition and final disposal, and a significantly different space for the embrace and distancing of the deceased.

Panel P19
Flesh in an age of death