Encountering Corpses III Conference Brochure

It is with great excitement that we invite you to the 3rd Encountering Corpses symposium, 8-9th December 2017, Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) Business School, Manchester, UK. The event is also the final event in the ESRC sponsored Research Seminar Series on Encountering Corpses.

Tickets can be booked here:


Provisional programme:

Friday 8th December

10.00am – Refreshments and Registration – North Atrium, Manchester Met Business School

10.30 – 10.45am – WelcomeProf. Craig Young (Manchester Met) – Manchester Met Business School BS G.34

Introduction from Professor Richard Greene, Pro Vice Chancellor for Research Knowledge Exchange at Manchester Met.

10.45am – 11.30am Theorising the corpse I: Professor Craig Young (Manchester Met), Dr Julie Seymour and Dr. Trish Green (Hull York Medical School)

11.30 – 11.45 Break and refreshments

11.45 – 12.45 Plenary OneProf. Catherine Nash, Geography, Queen Mary University of London:

Making kinship with human remains: repatriation, biomedicine and the many relations of Charles Byrne

This paper explores the ways in which genealogical, ancestral and wider forms of relatedness are produced through human remains. It does so through focusing on the case of the controversial display of the remains of Charles Byrne (1761-83), commonly known as ‘The Irish Giant’ in the Hunterian Museum in London. These remains have been mobilised in the making of ideas of national, regional and local belonging for the remains themselves and in relation to differently imagined geographies of relatedness and collective identity. They have also been subject to biomedical research and used to produce ideas of genetic relatedness. The making of kinship to and through these human remains, as I trace here, has involved a range of social actors and institutions with distinct and overlapping interests and intentions – personal, collective, clinical, historical, scientific.  Addressing this case of a skeleton, arguments about where it should be, and the different models of relatedness and that are mobilised to give them moral legitimacy, this paper explores the entangled discourses of memory, local history, biomedicine and genomics, and national, regional, local and diasporic geographies of collective identity and experience that run through debates about the right place for these remains. Doing so I hope to demonstrate the value of considering how human remains are mobilised in making geographies of relatedness.

12.45 – 13.30 – Lunch – North Atrium, Manchester Met Business School

13.30 – 14.30 Sandra Burslem Building SB 2.10 (please note change of room – this is attached to the Business School) Theorising the corpse II: Dr Julie Rugg (University of York), Dr Phil Stone (Institute of Dark Tourism Research, UCLan)

14.30 – 15.45 Current research in death and the dead body I:

  • Dr Donna Poade, Department of Management, University of Exeter – The Business of Dark Tourism: A Supply Perspective
  • Dan Robins, Department of Sociology, University of York – The Poisonous Corpse: Disposing of ‘Toxic-Necro-Waste’

The Poisonous Corpse: Disposing of ‘Toxic-Necro-Waste’ abstract:

We will all die, and when we die, our bodies will still remain. The process of disposing of these is therefore of great concern. Yet, while this process involves the conscious disposal of a body, it also invites the disposal of the meaning that is attributed to that body. The disposal of this meaning is often complicated as it is not necessarily something that we want to achieve. We go to great lengths to ensure that it does not happen. For example, a growing trend is for people to construct diamond rings out of the cremated remains of a loved one in order to commemorate them.
This talk asks what happens in the event that we do need to dispose of the meaning of a body. The case of Ian Brady is used to talk through this. His remains are viewed as a form of poisonous waste; ‘toxic necro-waste’ (Robins, 2017). This is discussed through the exploration of how the meaning of his remains is disposed of by the wider public. The talk aims to leave you thinking about the process of disposing of the dead, and asks you to question how you specifically remember the criminal, notorious dead.

  • Nadia de Vries, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam – Corps Electriques: Encountering the Corpse Online

Corps Electriques: Encountering the Corpse Online abstract:

What happens to our perception of the dead human body when we encounter it online? Similar to cat videos and zany memes, the corpse occupies a niche position within the realm of the virtual. Bodies ranging from that of Nikki Catsouras (a high school student who died in a car crash) to that of Neda Agha-Soltan (an Iranian activist whose death was “immortalized” on YouTube) hold a folkloric status in the digital world. The virtual corpse is often claimed, repurposed, and widely shared by the online community, who takes a dubious ownership of it and turns it into an object of entertainment. The moral etiquette of the physical world, so it seems, is rarely applied to the virtual corpse. What sense of dignity, then, is the corpse afforded in digital space?

This paper explores the ethical position of the dead body in an online context. Through a discussion of three case studies, I argue that the affects commonly associated with the dead body (shock, grief, pain) undergo a shift when the dead body is transported to the virtual realm. Finally, I introduce three ways in which the human corpse is appropriated online, with the aim of opening a discussion about the object status of the human corpse and its moral implications.

  •  Zivarna Murphy, Hull York Medical School – Refused gifts: what happens when bodies cannot be accepted for medical education

Refused gifts: what happens when bodies cannot be accepted for medical education?

In the UK, people can choose to donate their bodies after death for medical teaching and research. However, on death many bodies cannot be accepted for reasons such as the medical condition of the donor or logistical or time constraints at the Unit. These refusals account for a large amount of the emotional labour with families undertaken by Medical School Anatomy Unit staff. Emotional labour is the management of positive and negative emotions in self and others (Hochschild). It is essential that this interaction is a positive experience for family members as donations often run in families. In instances where an anatomy unit cannot accept a donation, the staff will do what they can to redirect the body to another medical school; ideally a local one. Regional alliances and exchange relationships therefore form among staff. Methods utilised for this PhD include document analysis, a national survey of UK Anatomy Units, in-depth interviews with anatomy unit staff, an ethnography of one UK anatomy unit and participant observation of thanksgiving/memorial services. This paper will use preliminary findings to discuss what happens in an Anatomy Unit if a body cannot be accepted to medical education and the various mechanisms that are put in place to deal with this. It will also bring to light for the first time how many bodies on average are refused per year in England and Northern Ireland and discuss if these refusals could be avoided.

15.45 – 16.00 Break and refreshments – SB Atrium

16.00 – 17.00 Theorising the corpse III: Dr Duncan Sayer (UCLan) + discussion

17.00 – 18.00 Plenary TwoDr Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Sociology, University of York:

‘I see dead people’: Encountering Corpses in Popular Culture

Visions of death and the dead appear everywhere in popular culture and possess an allure that is hard to resist. They have acquired such prominence that they have become a mediated entertaining public spectacle. When in 1988 Bob Dylan wrote Death is Not the End he was right. Death is not the end but a beginning, albeit a posthumous one. This paper focuses on how the dead, in their various forms, are encountered in popular culture. It will be argued that the dead can, and do have agency whereby they are able to influence and alter the world despite death. This agency is evident through the economic and symbolic value they generate and exert amongst the living and also the multiple representations of the dead in popular culture that has had the effect of making them an acceptable and ordinary form of entertainment. Death itself may mark the end of an individual but it creates a new and powerful agency to be wielded by the dead. It would seem that death and the dead are far from repressed or taboo but are instead a banal part of everyday life that has infiltrated to the mass consumer.

18.00 – 18.10 – Closing remarks day one


7.30pm – Cultural event:

Join world-renowned poet Michael Symmons Roberts for a special close reading of the series ‘Food for Risen Bodies’ from his 2004 collection ‘Corpus’.

Tickets are free but limited so please book here, which also has the time and venue etc:


After reading, Michael will invite questions from the audience, which will be discussed as a group over (free) wine and bread.


Saturday 9th December

10.00am – Refreshments and Registration – North Atrium, Manchester Met Business School

10.30am – WelcomeProfessor Craig Young – Manchester Met Business School BS G.33

10.45am – 11.30am Theorising the corpse IV: Prof. Douglas Davies (Durham University), Dr John Troyer (University of Bath)

11.30 – 11.45 – Break and refreshments

11.45 – 13.00 Current research in death and the dead body II:

  • Alex Grebener, Institute for Dark Tourism Research, University of Central Lancashire – Conceptualising the Visitor Experience: A Semiotic Framework of Dark Tourism Experience
  • Dan Wright, Institute for Dark Tourism Research, University of Central Lancashire – Encountering Corpses at Terror Park: A 22nd Century Theme Park
  • Richard Morten, Institute for Dark Tourism Research, University of Central Lancashire – Eternal Glory: Communist Encounters with the Dead

Eternal Glory: Communist Encounters with the Dead abstract:

Under the Communist governments of late-20th century Eastern Europe, places marked by death or suffering (and most notably, those associated with WWII) very often became sites of state-sanctioned pilgrimage; from the humble tombs of anti-fascist partisans, to gargantuan battlefield memorials. In its treatment of the deceased, however, the Communist mode of remembrance sometimes differed dramatically from Western norms of engagement with the dead. This paper shares some early findings from an ongoing PhD research project. It compares the representation of death and the dead in Western versus Communist Eastern European memorial sites, and demonstrates how even the architecture of monuments and memorials in ‘the East’ (specifically those in Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia) was often designed from the ground up with an inherently different attitude to encounters with the dead. Finally, the paper considers the fate of these Eastern European memorial sites today. Many have fallen into states of severe decay, and inasmuch as they have come to symbolise the political systems that created them, these ruins evoke a sense of dead empires: their perceived associations with death having expanded far beyond just the corpses that lay beneath them.

  • Rodica Arpasanu, School of Science and Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University – Walking, Sensing, Feeling: Visitors experiencing Heptapyrgion fortress in Thessaloniki, Greece

13.00 – 14.00 – Lunch – North Atrium


14.00 – 17.00 An afternoon of Encountering the Dead in Grosvenor Square:

Grosvenor Square (commonly known as All Saints Park) is located on Manchester Met All Saints campus immediately next to the conference venue and is a former church graveyard which still contains over 16,000 bodies.

As part of the Encountering Corpses III events, a moving and fascinating installation will be taking place in the park, marking the presence of these past Mancunians with visual and sound art and a pop up exhibition of historical images and new writing.

First, the various academics and artists involved in the project will talk about their experiences of interacting with the dead and developing the texts and artworks:

  • Helen Darby, Research Impact Manager for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and curator of the project.
  • Michala Hulme, Lecturer in History at Manchester Met and part of the Manchester Centre for Public History (MCPH) who has investigated the site and studied the burial records of those interred.
  • Dr Sam Edwards, Lecturer in History at MMU and Director of MCPH
  • Debbie Sharp, Artist: http://debbie-sharp.com/withinmemoriam (providing the sound installation).
  • Dr Ian Drew, School of Science and Environment at Manchester Met (performing radar scanning of the park).

Conference attendees will move into the park itself, to interact with texts and the art and sound installations. We will also be provided with details of the radar scanning that is taking place as part of the project, with a chance to view the equipment used and ask further questions of the project team.

After some time to view and listen, we will return to the conference venue to discuss the encounter as a group.

17.00 – 18.00 Plenary ThreeAss. Prof. Margaret M. Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, USA.:


What would it mean to encounter death on screen in a non-banal way? That is, could we encounter the corpse onscreen in the fullness of its dignity and sorrow and mystery? The corpse is a special object, one that points beyond itself in the medium of its own flesh. It seems to me we could never finish sketching the outlines of that special objecthood, tracing the contours of where its representational qualities end and its material ones begin. Are non-linguistic modes of encountering the corpse valid here, and if so, what would they be? Touch or taste or smell? The corpse is, until of course it is not. The is-not-ness is cultural and representational but it is also material. Disposal rituals consecrate the corpse to the unbeing that will happen, biologically, out of sight, whether in the crematorium or in decomposition. As I’ve argued, part of the is-ness of the corpse is its relationship to time—as a temporal object, the corpse both stops time and marks its passage. Archival media—photographs, films, phonographs and all manner of inscriptive media such as magnetic tape, databases, and archives—all have congress with the desire to capture and freeze a moment. Andre Bazin remarked that all photographs “embalm time;” he also observed the pornographic quality of onscreen death. That most irrevocable and private of moments sickeningly spools and unspools before us on the screen, and it feels like a violation. I’ve had reason to return to these observations—which among media scholars are seminal enough to be considered commonplace—because of the spate of onscreen deaths in American public culture. Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, to name only a few, died before our very eyes, were resuscitated by the rewinding of the tape, and died again and again and again. This, it seems to me, is the banality of onscreen death. Something crucial is missing, among the outrage that fuels protests that fail to result in police taking accountability for these murders. In my remarks I’ll posit the television series Twin Peaks: The Return as a possibly non-banal encounter with the corpse. At the center of the Return are two women whose bodies are marked especially by time and by death. The first is of course Laura Palmer, whose death was the central mystery of the first series and who continues to appear in the Return as a living corpse (inhabiting another plane of existence because, of course, this is still David Lynch). The second is the so-called “Log Lady,” Margaret Lanterman, played by the actress Catherine E. Coulson. Coulson died of cancer in 2015, two years before the series aired. Yet she appears in The Return, with her head bald from chemotherapy and an oxygen tube under her nose. In the first episode of The Return, the Log Lady shares a “message from her log” that sets the narrative mystery in motion once again. Audiences, already aware of Coulson’s death and uncertain as to whether her iconic character would appear in the sequel, were thus invited to consider her death as something happening in both the diagetic and nondiagetic planes. In this way, Coulson’s corpse appears on the screen, I argue, in a way that allows for a kind of dignity and loss and mystery. The stakes of this encounter are no less than the banality dulling our encounters with corpses whose deaths demand our justice. A short-hand understanding of the link between archival media and death permeates public culture to such an extent that the lurid display of death is fetishized, treated as its own justice, while material justice remains out of reach. A careful analysis of a different kind of image production may reveal what is needed to make these deaths real to us.

18.00 – 18.15 – Concluding remarks

18.15 – The Archaeology of Beer – talk by Dr Ben Edwards of Manchester Met

Learn about the brewing of ancient beers – not just in theory but in 21st Century practice! Our Dr Ben Edwards has joined forces with Chester’s Pied Bull Brewery to serve up batches of new beer based on recipes sourced from archaeological investigations. Attendees of the talk will receive two beer tokens, good for one half each of both beers available on the night – a Romano-British ale named Mithras and the Medieval 1534 (named after the founding date of Pied Bull).

19.30 – Concluding social event – please join us at The Salutation pub in the upstairs room to celebrate the end of the Encountering Corpses Research Seminar Series with a buffet, music and ancient beer.

Venue and location: upstairs room in The Salutation, 12 Higher Chatham Street (very near to All Saints/Grosvenor Park).

See: https://thesalutationpub.com

Our keynote speakers:

Prof. Catherine Nash, School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London:
Catherine is a feminist cultural geographer with research interests in geographies of identity, relatedness and belonging. I am particularly interested in bringing together a cultural geographical perspective and a focus on kinship which includes attention to genealogical knowledges and imaginations and practices of making relations.  I am currently extending this work by addressing interspecies kinship, entangled family histories of animals and people, and the symbolic, practiced, affective, embodied and spatial dimensions of human-non-human relatedness. Catherine will talk about her current project on the ‘Irish Giant’ Charles Byrne, whose skeleton is displayed in the Hunterian Museum in London.
 Dr. Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Sociology, University of York:
Ruth is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the Sociology Department at the University of York. Her background in Sociology is united with an interest in crime and deviance, death and corpses and popular culture and celebrity. Ruth has established the Death and Culture Network at York which runs a biannual international conference as well as being the lead editor of the Emerald Book Series in Death and Culture. She is also on the editorial board for Mortality and Celebrity Studies as well as the advisory board for Cultivate a postgraduate-led journal based in the Centre for Women’s Studies.
Ass. Prof. Margaret M. Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, USA.


You can see video and Storify on Encountering Corpses I and II here:


You can download a campus map (Manchester Met Business School is building no. 6) and see travel directions here: