Death by Geography: reviewing spaces of death

by Fiona Ferbrache

US cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer Calvados (14), Normandy

Pick up a daily newspaper and you will find an obituary section providing biographical sketches of recently deceased individuals.  Last week, these included Coptic Christian Pope Shenouda III, children’s author Jan Berenstein, and Sir Alan Cottrell, chief scientific adviser to the government.  In the current volume of Area, Lakhbir Jassal (2012) writes that the subject of death has been scarce within academic material, particularly scholarly approaches that emphasise  space and place.

Among Area’s reviews this quarter, Jassal reflects on a book that does deal with the spatial study of death: Deathscapes: spaces of death, dying, mourning and remembrance.  This collection, edited by Avril Maddrell and James D. Sidaway, comprises fifteen chapters that draw from empirical and theoretical perspectives, and a multidisciplinary framework.  With the editors’ disciplinary roots in geography, this collection centralises the concept of place and space, not least through the use of the term deathscapes “to capture the spatial and place-based logics underscoring a wide range of social and cultural processes association with death and dying” (Jassal, 2012:124).  Jassel draws, for example, on the  “spatialised practices” and processes for  “managing, ordering and governing the dead” that are explored through chapters on body disposal, and private and natural burial.

The review draws attention to western traditions of death and body disposal – principally burial.  For Jassal, this is one weakness of the collection for it excludes consideration of the diversity of traditions that are shaping ‘the west’ as a partial consequence of migration.  Jassal’s other main critique is that the volume reinforces a fixed geography of death and dying that fails to adequately account for dynamic patterns of death.  Overall however, Jassal’s review shows an agreement with the Forward of Deathscapes; that this collection will “help in understanding the intensely emotional experiences of our lives” (p.125).

  Jassal, L. (2012) Review: Deathscapes: spaces for death, dying, mourning and remembrance. Area. 44.1, pp.124-125

  Obituaries in The Guardian

 

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