The Ph.D. Program in Anthropology invites you to attend our Fall 2020 Colloquium series.
Shannon Lee Dawdy University of Chicago
Death in America / Ghosts in the Commodity
In the United States, death practices have undergone a rapid transformation in the last 20 years. The American death care industry has been responding to a demand for more creative, individualized rituals accompanied by new material practices. I will present examples of three death care entrepreneurs who make entities from cremated human remains that cannot comfortably be called either human or non-human. They are both. And they are designed to facilitate an ongoing relationship with the dead. Whether agentive objects or quasi-subjects, they cast a startling light on popular ontologies. How do contemporary Americans think about being? I argue that these entities share qualities with the commodity, the relic, and the fetish, each efficacious in their magicality and “real” in their effects upon the human world. But with a spirituality unmoored from organized religion and a subtle refusal of the commodity form, despite ties to mass production and consumer marketing, there is also something profoundly different about them. Their ambiguity makes them active and spiritually potent. They are ghosts in commodity form.
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