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Press Release - 12 September 2005

The social (and legal) life of corpses

The social life of recently dead bodies

Darcy Heath spent the larger part of 2002 engaged in field research with a funeral home, primarily in the mortuary, examining how and by whom identity was constructed and represented at the site of a dead body. Dead people already have histories and identities, but funeral directors, embalmers and the bereaved become entangled in the post-mortem personhood of the deceased. They decide what the dead person will signify and how their identity will be represented.

However, the decedent’s agency remains influential because information that people bring to be embodied or represented by the deceased is often information about the dead person, about their character or social significance that has been communicated by the deceased. In this way the decedent’s agency is carried through their death by the living, although the living can interpret their own meanings into it.

Darcy Heath (University of Auckland, NZ)

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