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Accepted Paper:

“You Don’t Visit the Bones”: Care for the Dead in Times of Change  
Elizabeth Davis (Princeton University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses changing death practices in contemporary Greek society. Overcrowding in urban cemeteries, the ongoing austerity regime, and the recent legalization of cremation recontextualize moral traditions of care that saturate human remains with significance.

Paper long abstract:

This paper addresses death practices in contemporary Greek society, and the moral traditions of care that saturate human remains with significance. Ethnographers of “traditional” Greek death practices emphasize time as a symbolic operator; mourning and preparation of the corpse at home, a church funeral, and burial in an earthly grave are followed some years later by the exhumation of the bones and their deposition in a family or village ossuary. At stake in the intervening time is the decomposition of the flesh, as well as the extension of the dead person’s membership in the community of the living, when mourners can visit the grave.

My preliminary research in Athens suggests that, along with severe overcrowding in urban cemeteries, ongoing austerity in Greece has reduced and changed the quality of the time that transpires between burial and exhumation of the dead ritually undertaken (and paid for) by urban families. In addition, cremation – historically opposed by the Orthodox Church – was legalized in 2018. These changes raise questions about time, tradition, and responsibility that refract quite recent shifts in the organization of public space and material resources.

Anthropologists have long argued that care for the dead fosters relations of care among the living. This paper extends that argument, juxtaposing “orthodox” and “heterodox” burial practices in Greece to explore changing ideas about the physical and moral integrity of the body, what happens to it after death, and what that process requires of the living in terms of “proper care.”

Panel P179b
Afterlife counts: the economics and materiality of funerals and dealing with death [AGENET]
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -