How Manipulation of the Body During Mortuary Ritual Creates Identity


Apr. 5, 2021, 11:30am to 12:30pm

Office/Remote Location



Speaker Dr. Anna Osterholz (UNLV Alumna) of Mississippi State University will be giving a talk title: The body poetic: How manipulation of the body during mortuary ritual creates and amplifies identity

Just as the dead do not bury themselves, the dead also do not process their own mortal remains. The human body is a phenomenological and manipulable object, culturally constructed, and often manipulated for the benefit of the living by the living. Drawing on Whitehead’s Poetics of Violence model, we can examine identity formation through mortuary rituals, particularly those rituals that involve interaction between the living and the dead. Poetics tell us that it is the synergistic effect of ritual and performance that creates and allows for negotiation of social identity. These processes are not limited to violent interactions but can also be seen in mortuary rituals and body processing as these are socially constructed cultural performances. In this talk, I will discuss the essential theory, building a model of mortuary poetics using social anthropology, archaeological and bioarchaeological theory. Mortuary rituals are performed by the living for both the living and the dead, causing changes in status and identity through their performance.

Mortuary rituals illustrate the relationship between the living and the dead. Archaeologically, mortuary rituals can be identified through the material traces they leave, from the graves themselves to the remnants of feasting activity. This materiality of mortuary processing is the embodiment of the rituals and performances that created it, and so changes in the materiality indicate changes to the rituals and the relationship between the living and the dead. In our modern western world, we have a very individualistic view of identity, and our death rituals reflect this, occurring in secular and religious Spaces. We interact with our dead in ways that reflect our intersectional and communal identities. I will explore these topics with numerous case studies in archaeology and modern burials, everything from understanding why burial within a Medieval Church was a status symbol to why a concert/memorial service and fireworks/cremations explosion was the appropriate sendoff for a man like Hunter S. Thompson. No matter the time we examine, mortuary rituals are meaningful expressions of identity, this talk will examine the ties that bind the living to the dead and how those ties are embodied in poetic performances.



Admission Information

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Contact Information

Department of Anthropology
Liam Frink

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