The Future Cemetery

The contemporary Western cemetery, dedicated to the dead and their memorials, has become more than a pervasive urban landmark. It is also a central site in the emotional lives and cultural histories of local communities. However, this model is now facing crisis, driven by growing environmental concerns, maintenance costs, and an increasingly well-informed public with a complex range of desires for memorialisation.

Around the world, many cemeteries have begun adopting new technologies to improve their visitors’ experiences, reduce their facilities’ environmental footprint, and extend the personalisation of services in response to more diverse community desires. These include the potential for grave location, navigation, and tours, and for digital annotation or augmentation of interment locations. New alternatives to traditional cremation, burial, and mausoleums have also become viable, including resomation (water-based cremation) and natural burial. This project will identify and critically assess the potential of innovative technologies to enhance the public’s experience of the cemetery, diversify service offerings, and strengthen community connections, all in the context of increasingly diverse and rapidly changing social circumstances.

The Future Cemetery is a three-year project funded by the Australian Research Council (grant no: LP180100757) with the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust as Linkage Partner.


Disposal of the Dead: Beyond Burial and Cremation

This research project investigates innovative and scalable alternatives to body disposal, such as alkaline hydrolysis, liquid nitrogen, and other thermal processes, and innovative elaborationson burial and cremation, such as natural burial and carbon trading among crematoria at a time when there is a greater awareness of the economic and environmental costs of both burial and cremation. It considers the social, cultural and environmental issues, regulatory challenges, institutional responses, public discourses, personal ethics, and worldviews at stake in the emergence of these disposal technologies. The research asks, how do innovations in these technologies impact on consumers, industry, and broader socio-cultural and metaphysical frameworks for handling death? This project explores the practices and perspectives of designers, death workers, industry intermediaries, consumers and representatives of cultural and religious communities as they respond to, interpret and plan for changing possibilities of bodily disposal.

Disposal of the Dead is a three-year project funded by the Australian Research Council (DP: 180103148)

Remote, Restricted and Redesigned: Memorialisation practices and the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic not only represents a serious threat to human life and livelihoods, it has transformed experiences of death, grief, and memorialisation. Social distancing regulations have upended cultural and religious traditions by restricting interaction with the deceased, attendance at funerals, and visitation at cemeteries. Simultaneously, communities have found creative responses to restrictions through new rituals and uses of technology. At the heart of these disruptions and transformations are death care workers, who provide an essential service in the face of uncertainty but are often overlooked in official pandemic responses and media coverage. 

This research tackles the problem of how to manage individual and communal expectations of death rites that uphold human decency and tradition, while continuing to protect death care workers under the conditions of a global pandemic and its aftermath. The team will assess the Australian response and formulate recommendations for improvement to funeral practices during and following pandemic, with a view to long-term research. Conducting this research now will ensure that the death care sector will be better equipped to deliver a safe and compassionate response during future disruptive events. 

This project is funded by the Arts Collaborative Research Seed Funding Scheme at The University of Melbourne.

To take part in the survey of the death care industry for this project, please click here.

Digital Commemoration

The Internet is not just changing our social lives, it is also changing how we approach death and commemoration. The project provides an extensive analysis of contemporary digital commemoration and a detailed account of the wider social and cultural implications of these practices.

The ‘Digital Commemoration’ project brings together researchers from Anthropology, Human and Computer Interaction (HCI), Social Studies of Technology, and Media and Communications. The project will provide an extensive analysis of contemporary digital commemoration and a detailed account of the wider social and cultural implications of these practices. This research continues our previous work on digital memorialisation and the mediation of death online, which has been supported by research grants from the Institute for a Broadband Enabled Society (IBES) and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

Digital Commemoration was a three-year project funded by the Australian Research Council. For more information, visit the project website.