The dead body, burial at sea and benthic power

Authors: Craig Young*,
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: Corpses, benthic power, sea, burial at sea
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As a bodily disposal practice, whole body burial at sea (as opposed to ashes scattering) is centred on a key requirement and assumption – that dead bodies will go to the ocean floor where they will decompose, and from there they will not return. Whole body burial at sea thus brings the benthic environment into play in a series of complex assemblages encompassing bodily disposal practices, beliefs and attitudes towards bodily disposal and the sea, the politics of governance and legal systems, technology, socio-cultural constructions of ‘nature’ and the environment, and the agency of the sea itself. Through these assemblages the benthic environment is held as both distant – a remote location in which bodies can be disposed of and from which they will not return – but also brought closer to shore through the need to regulate this as a bodily disposal practice both legally and in terms of faith-based beliefs and social attitudes to the sea and death. The agency of the sea itself – its tides, currents, and vertical transfers of water – also shapes these assemblages as discourses of a ‘fear of return’ of the dead body conditions the regulation of bodily disposal practice in a way that intimately links the ocean floor with land-based practises. In the context of death the ocean floor is thus deeply (no pun intended) affectual and emotional, whilst also being socio-culturally and (geo-)politically constructed.

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