Accepted Paper:

Anatomising bodies: persons, materials and relations  


Elizabeth Hallam (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on research in medical schools in Scotland, this paper analyses the anatomising of deceased bodies as a relational process. Human remains are valued as persons, educational materials, and gifts to medical science, with implications for the perceived affective potential of the dead.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on anthropological research in medical school settings in Scotland, this paper examines the anatomising of bodies after death as a relational process. It considers three main aspects of this process: i) the social relations of the dead - that is, of the deceased who donate their bodies to medical education; ii) the relations between human bodies and the different media utilised in the teaching and learning of anatomy (e.g. MRI scans, x-rays, computer-based anatomy software and three-dimensional plastic models); and iii) the anatomical relations that are examined and visualised within bodies as students develop their knowledge of anatomy.

These relations are variously highlighted or, alternatively, de-emphasised and occluded, as each donor is constituted, over time, as deceased person, anonymous body or cadaver, and material for learning. With reference to practices at the University of Aberdeen in the last decade, this paper analyses the relational anatomising of bodies from the initial arrival of the recently deceased at the medical school, to their deployment in the dissecting room, and their subsequent memorialisation among family and friends when returned for burial or cremation.

Throughout this process, and depending on the particular relations that are entailed and foregrounded, bodies after death are valued as persons, as materials for the generation and communication of anatomical knowledge, and as gifts for the advancement of medical science. Such valuations have implications for the perceived affective potential of human remains and the responses they are seen to evoke in the living.

Panel P20
New immortalities: anthropological reflections on the procurement, transformation and use of human cadaveric tissue