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Accepted Paper:

The COVID Exemption: Suspending and Reimagining Funerary Responsibilities in Aotearoa New Zealand  
Nicholas Long (London School of Economics and Political Science) CARUL Collective (Various)

Paper short abstract:

COVID-19 restrictions have disrupted established traditions of caring for the deceased and the bereaved in Aotearoa. Innovations and exemptions allowed communities to adapt during the pandemic, but also led to longstanding ‘responsibilities’ associated with death and funerals being reassessed.

Paper long abstract:

At the height of Aotearoa’s lockdown in March-April 2020, funerals and tangihanga were banned altogether, before having their numbers capped at 10 during ‘Level 3’. Religious leaders, community leaders, and individuals thus had to devise alternative ways of discharging their responsibilities to the deceased and those who were grieving. This could involve developing innovative new substitutes for established practices. It could also involve suspending certain duties and obligations, in what we refer to as a ‘COVID exemption’.

While ‘COVID exemptions’ were sometimes undertaken with sadness – as well as anger regarding the lack of consultation before restrictions were imposed – there was widespread recognition that they were necessary to safeguard public health. Many respondents took pride in their traditions’ adaptability and in their communities’ active participation in responding to COVID-19.

For some, however, the ‘COVID exemption’ also led to critical reassessment of longstanding obligations. ‘Restricted’ funerals presented distinct opportunities: from the sense of personal intimacy associated with a small service, to relief at being spared the burdensome costs of a traditional funeral. Indeed, because of the way it had reframed apparent cultural responsibilities as profligacy, some even came to view the pandemic as ‘an Act of God’.

COVID-19 funerary restrictions thus confronted people with complex tensions between the social facts of established ‘responsibilities’, and ‘responsibility’ as an ethic of ‘response’ to a dynamic world. ’ We consider the implications of these tensions both for cultural practice following the coronavirus’s elimination from Aotearoa, and for anthropological theories of responsibility and care.

Panel Heal10c
Care, responsibility, and COVID-19 social restrictions III
  Session 1 Thursday 1 April, 2021, -