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Ryan Schram
ANTH 1002: Anthropology in the world
Module 4, Week 3, Lecture 2
Social Sciences Building (A02), Room 410
November 6, 2019
Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/2019/4.3.2

People bring different experiences to the topic of death, and we want to acknowledge this

Today's topic can be upsetting. In fact, the point of this lecture is that when societies practice “death choice,” they also necessarily lead people to hypocognize certain aspects of death and its effects.

People can react as they need to (without interfering with other people). You can also always interrupt Ryan to slow lecture down, or to ask why he is presenting a particular piece of information. (When in doubt, just ask: “Ryan, what is the question that this topic will help us to answer?”)

In a society that practices hospital death and death choice, people hypocognize the rights of the dead

The first main claim I want to make is prompted by two things about Sydney that I have always wanted to know more about:

  • Why is there a train platform that looks like a church at the end of Regent Street (Brook 2015)?
  • Why is the big park in Newtown called Camperdown Memorial Rest Park (Sydney Morning Herald 1948)?

These are, I argue, symptoms of a particular culture of death in which individuals are forced to be free, and choose their own deaths. Specifically, in these types of society, people will ignore and suppress public recognition of the presence of the dead as beings with ongoing rights and relationships to society as a whole. Death choice denies the rights of dead people as ancestors.

"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us"

Not all dead people are erased, however, and the choice of whom to remember is very telling:

Death choice means that some people will have bad deaths

  • The Queensland Pacific Islanders’ Fund, ca. 1880s (Moore 2015)
  • The morgue at Port Moresby General Hospital (Awikiak 2019)
  • A funeral for an asylum-seeker in Ireland (Thomas 2019)

Thinking like anthropologists

  • Anthropologists are interested in every aspect of human experience, and see these as part of a totality.
  • Anthropologists place particular aspects of human experience—the things people think, feel, say, and do—in a larger context, as a part of a larger whole.
  • Anthropologists are diverse and eclectic. They don't necessarily agree on how to think about the larger picture into which their observations fit as parts.
    • The machine metaphor of society and structural-functionalism
    • The dramaturgical metaphor of society and scripts (or, rituals)
    • An emphasis on paradox, contradiction, and hence conflict and tension, e.g. gift–commodity, individual–social, hierarchy–solidarity.
  • Anthropological knowledge is relevant, because anthropologists study everything, and anthropologists' emphasis on relativism of cultural difference means that they will always be able to think critically and question people's assumptions.

The final quiz: Anthropologists question authority

There will be a final in-class quiz in today's lecture. Go to Canvas and take Quiz no. 23: Anthropologists question authority.

The code for the quiz will be announced in class.


Awikiak, Glenda. 2019. “Hospital Wants People to Collect Bodies of Relatives.” The Papua New Guinea National, January 7, 2019. https://www.thenational.com.pg/hospital-wants-people-to-collect-bodies-of-relatives/.

Brook, Benedict. 2015. “The Station Where Only the Dead Depart.” News.com.au, October 16, 2015. https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-ideas/adventure/the-sydney-railway-station-designed-for-the-dead-is-to-be-opened-to-the-living/news-story/17c480c9d5c5c4cc992391117b8d119e#.wt7vi.

Ferguson, Kathy E., and Phyllis Turnbull. 1996. “Narratives of History, Nature, and Death at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 16 (2/3): 1–23. https://doi.org/10.2307/3346801.

Moore, Clive. 2015. “The Pacific Islanders’ Fund and the Misappropriation of the Wages of Deceased Pacific Islanders by the Queensland Government.” Australian Journal of Politics & History 61 (1): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajph.12083.

Sydney Morning Herald. 1948. “New Park Planned,” April 9, 1948. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18067188.

Thomas, Cónal. 2019. “Woman Who Died in Direct Provision Buried without Ceremony before Friends Were Told.” TheJournal.Ie, June 5, 2019. https://www.thejournal.ie/sylva-direct-provision-death-burial-funeral-4668250-Jun2019/.

Wolfson, Elizabeth. 2017. “The ‘Black Gash of Shame’—Revisiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Controversy.” Art21 Magazine, March 15, 2017. http://magazine.art21.org/2017/03/15/the-black-gash-of-shame-revisiting-the-vietnam-veterans-memorial-controversy/.

1002/2019/4.3.2.txt · Last modified: 2020/08/05 15:24 (external edit)