Encountering Corpses

“Across cultures and time, the corpse has been a source of fascination for the living. Today, the dead body has never been a more intriguing, important subject for scholars, public policy officials, the mass media, and the general public. The human corpse, and its social meanings and how it should be valued, discussed, disposed of, imaged, and used, is a critical subject, generating public debate, enormous media attention, and corporate interest.” (Foltyn 2008: 100).

American academic Jacque Lynn Foltyn neatly captures the focus of this blog – in what ways do we increasingly encounter corpses in contemporary society, and in what socio-cultural, political, economic and environmental contexts does this occur? How is the dead body a subject but also a powerful and active agent playing a role in shaping social relations within these contexts? These issues have long been of concern within various ‘death industries’ and professions but are increasingly the subject of academic enquiry and popular engagement.

As Foltyn (2008: 104) intriguingly concludes:

“Relic, museum exhibit, dissection spectacle, ‘‘other,’’ site of ethnic and religious identities, organ/tissue donor, monster, sex object, porn star, infotainment, funeral icon, ‘data trash’, clone precursor, simulation or real, dead bodies are maps of power and identity. In the twenty-first century, the corpse in contemporary culture is all of these things and more.”

That’s what this blog seeks to explore. I look forward to it!

Foltyn’s paper is: Foltyn, J.L. (2008) The corpse in contemporary culture: identifying, transacting, and recoding the dead body in the twenty-first century. Mortality 13: 99–104.

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