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Virtual Afterlives

Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century

Candi K. Cann
Series: Material Worlds
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Virtual Afterlives
    Book Description:

    For millennia, the rituals of death and remembrance have been fixed by time and location, but in the twenty-first century, grieving has become a virtual phenomenon. Today, the dead live on through social media profiles, memorial websites, and saved voicemails that can be accessed at any time. This dramatic cultural shift has made the physical presence of death secondary to the psychological experience of mourning.

    Virtual Afterlives investigates emerging popular bereavement traditions. Author Candi K. Cann examines new forms of grieving and evaluates how religion and the funeral industry have both contributed to mourning rituals despite their limited ability to remedy grief. As grieving traditions and locations shift, people are discovering new ways to memorialize their loved ones. Bodiless and spontaneous memorials like those at the sites of the shootings in Aurora and Newtown and the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as roadside memorials, car decals, and tattoos are contributing to a new bereavement language that crosses national boundaries and culture-specific perceptions of death.

    Examining mourning practices in the United States in comparison to the broader background of practices in Asia and Latin America, Virtual Afterlives seeks to resituate death as a part of life and mourning as a unifying process that helps to create identities and narratives for communities. As technology changes the ways in which we experience death, this engaging study explores the culture of bereavement and the ways in which it, too, is being significantly transformed.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4543-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The face of grieving in American culture has changed dramatically in the last two hundred years. Traditionally, there were established grieving rituals that one followed after a death—mourning was a liminal state in which one withdrew from society and could grieve the dead, and then return to social norms and expectations. Evidence of such mourning rituals was fairly universal and included the wearing of mourning clothing and observing a certain period of enforced bereavement, during which one was both expected and permitted to take time off from traditional social events such as dinners, dances, and so on. One would...

  5. 1 The Bodiless Memorial: The Dis-location of the Body
    (pp. 17-48)

    Recent years have seen an upsurge in spontaneous and grassroots memorialization¹ and the rise of popular memorials for the dead: the Columbine shooting memorial, the memorial of Diana outside Kensington Palace, the Oklahoma bombing memorial, the Aurora, Colorado, shootout memorial, the World Trade Center memorial,² and most recently the Sandy Hook Elementary School memorial. In addition to these large specters of public memorialization, there has been an enormous upswing in local and personal memorialization. Erika Doss discusses this trend in her recent book,Memorial Mania, documenting the phenomenon of memorialization in popular culture and its growing popularity.³ The most curious...

  6. 2 Wearing the Dead
    (pp. 49-80)

    The development of tattooing is one way to carry the dead around with us, while also making the status of the bereaved clearly evident to those around them. Tattooing is a visual marker that concretely indicates one’s status as bereaved to the community, by memorializing the dead through the inscribing of names, images, or even replicas of body parts (such as handprints or footprints of the deceased) on living bodies. Tattoo remembrances are literally carried with us, age with us, and allow a virtual afterlife for the dead, simultaneously establishing the identity of the bereaved in a fixed and permanent...

  7. 3 Moving the Dead
    (pp. 81-104)

    This chapter examines the role ofplacein remembering the dead. Shifting from memorials that one inscribes bodily, we study various other forms of moving shrines, specifically, car memorials and T-shirt remembrances. These nonpermanent memorials function as ways in which people can “carry the dead” with them, without fixing them in place permanently, as tattoos do. The practice of remembering the dead as part of one’s identity has its origins in mourning practices such as wearing mourning sackcloth (Hebraic culture) or taking three years off from work and wearing mourning clothes (Chinese culture). And as little as a hundred years...

  8. 4 Speaking to the Dead: Social Network Sites and Public Grieving
    (pp. 105-132)

    Virtual bereavement allows for marginal discourse to circumvent traditional modes of bereavement by reclaiming mourning and the ways we talk and think about the dead. The virtual realm returns us to our mourning through memorialization: through image and memory, without the messiness of the corpse. The language of grief presented in these Internet memorials is popular and spontaneous, but it reflects marginal discourse. The use of written narratives to construct meaning for the dead in the realm of those in mourning is nothing new: both obituaries and elegies have long been a part of the world of mourning. I would...

  9. 5 Grieving the Dead in Alternative Spaces
    (pp. 133-146)

    From the dead body to the virtual body and from material memorials to virtual memorials, one thing is clear: the bodiless nature of memorialization of the dead across cultures. There is a move to replacing the body with something else in order to remember the dead. In postindustrial, Protestant, and capitalist societies such as the United States (and Western Europe, though it is not covered in this book), this trend seems much more prominent and is moving at a faster rate than it is in the developing world. This is occurring for a variety of factors. Death is being denied...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 147-148)
  11. Appendix A: Interview Questions for Tattoo Artists
    (pp. 149-150)
  12. Appendix B: Interview Questions for Car-Decal Memorial Manufacturers
    (pp. 151-152)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 153-176)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-190)
  15. Index
    (pp. 191-198)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-200)