Redesigning Deathcare Conference 2022 – accepting submissions

The inaugural Redesigning Deathcare Conference will hosted by the University of Melbourne on 27–29 October 2022, with in-person and online presentations.

We are now inviting expressions of interest that address the following theme. EOIs close 28 February. See the conference website for more detail about ways to participate.

How might we reimagine the future of deathcare?

‘Deathcare’ describes our total system for responding to death, from ageing and the end-of-life, through to body disposal and bereavement.

The acute threat posed by COVID-19 over the last two years has exacerbated deeper challenges to our contemporary models of deathcare, from climate change to an ageing population. Such forces are not simply threats, they also invite innovation and creativity.

Redesigning Deathcare invites contributions from diverse perspectives to collectively imagine and build a holistic system of deathcare. People today are presented with ever-expanding individual choice around the end-of-life, but are also forced to navigate complex, fragmented systems of care that fail to provide equitable and meaningful outcomes. As it stands, deathcare is artificially separated into silos, organised around different stages (dying, death, commemoration, etc.), different professions (medical clinicians, funeral directors, counsellors, etc.), and academic disciplines (medicine, anthropology, law, etc.).

The conference asks delegates to consider:

  • How do we remake our deathcare system so that it better meets community needs, not just today, but for future generations?
  • How do we bridge long-standing divides in how we imagine and manage the end-of-life?
  • How might contested views of the future be productively and equitably debated and resolved?
  • How are the future of the planet and the future of deathcare intertwined?

The program at Redesigning Deathcare is organised around four key challenges:

  • Demography
  • Environmental Crisis
  • Diversity & Justice
  • Technology

Expressions of interest close 28 February 2022. Registration and full submissions close 31 May 2022.

More details at redesigningdeathcare.org.


Encyclopedia of Cemetery Technology

The Encyclopedia of Cemetery Technology is a global map and directory of technologies that augment the experience of interacting with a cemetery. It was created by the DeathTech Research Team as part of the Future Cemetery project, based on a systematic review of academic, industry and popular publications about cemeteries and technology.

The Encyclopedia summarises the type and function of existing cemetery technologies. The major application categories are:

The Encyclopedia is now open to contributions.



Melbourne Conversations: Deconstructing Human Voices

DeathTech’s Dr Fraser Allison joined filmmaker/artist Daz Chandler and design researcher Dr Niels Wouters at ACMI X to talk about voice technology. The wide-ranging conversation included a discussion of the long history of attempts to use new technologies to listen and speak to the dead.

Watch a recording of this conversation.

Event description:

What happens when your voice is uploaded to the internet? From Siri to experimental art, the way we use our voices with technology is rapidly changing. In constructing and deconstructing voice we create digital archives of our lives, stretching beyond our IRL bodies to create digital replicas which could be beyond our control. What are we leaving for future generations to find? How will they experience these human-computer hybrid remnants of our lives?

Digital replicas created through chatbots, deepfakes and AI may blur our sense of trust and what listening means to us – but we can also encounter new possibilities for empathy, ethics and creativity. Voice-controlled interfaces also offer playful and imaginative experiences that create new layers of meaning and social interaction.

Source: City of Melbourne

Welcome to DeathTech: navigating the business of death online – ABC Radio National

Dr Bjørn Nansen appeared on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program on 24th May to discuss the online services that aim to support people in dealing with death.

It may sound very biblical, but in the midst of life, we are in death. Still, death can be a difficult topic to broach. Today though, online spaces are providing more comfortable places for people to talk about death. Businesses like AddendoVault, and community groups such as Groundswell are providing choices about how we might mourn the loss of someone we held dear, as well as get our affairs in order before we die.

Download the segment on the ABC Radio National website.


Life Matters: Who are funerals for?

DeathTech member, Dr Hannah Gould, spoke with the Radio National Life Matters team about the changing nature of funerals in Australia, and what happens when conflicts emerge between the wishes of the deceased and the bereaved.

The program features a number of wonderful stories from members of the public calling in, who describe how they are “doing death differently” and bucking tradition.


From Radio National:

What happens when a loved one tells you they don’t want a funeral when they die, but family members feel compelled to mark their passing with a service? It is tradition, but are we honouring the deceased, or are these ceremonies really to allow the bereaved to grieve? The whole process came into sharp focus during the pandemic, when many funerals were held over zoom, condolences could only be accepted over the phone and, in some cases, burials were conducted with no one at the grave site. Has COVID-19 changed the way we think about death rituals? And whose wishes should you follow, the deceased or the bereaved?

To listen to the full episode and read the accompanying article, visit: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/has-covid-modernised-our-death-rituals-for-better-or-worse/13813124


The Sustainable Cemetery online panel – 28 Feb

Join DeathTech’s Sam Holleran and representatives from the deathcare industry for an online discussion of the ways in which sustainability can be embedded in cemeteries of the future.

Date: Monday 28 Feb

Time: 6.00pm AEDT

Where: Zoom (link on registration)

Registration: Free

Presenters:

  • James Reid – Greater Metropolitan Cemetery Trust (panel facilitator)
  • Samuel Holleran – Researcher, University of Melbourne DeathTech
  • Alli Coster – Design Lead, Future Built Environment, Greater Metropolitan Cemetery Trust
  • Miranda Wilkinson – Associate Director, McGregor Coxall
  • Theo Gouskos – Managing Director, Greenshoot Consulting

Details and booking at: http://www.slf.org.au/event/sustainable-cemetery/


Interview with Catherine Bell on Art, Death & Disposal – Faculty of Arts

Catherine Bell spoke with Sarah Hall of the Faculty of Arts about her work for the Art, Death & Disposal exhibition (curated by DeathTech), her visions for the future of death and body disposal, and the role that art can play in imagining that future.

“I see death as a social process – one that is materialised through the act of disposal. So, my vision for the future of death disposal would involve the development of rituals that encourage community discussion about death that will support people to plan their death in advance, in a similar way the birth of a baby is planned.

Reframing body disposal as beneficial to the environment would be integral to that vision. Situating body decomposition as serving a personal and environmentally sustainable legacy would conceptually recuperate death into life and foster ethical burial choices.”

Read the full article at the Faculty of Arts news feed.


We need to rethink how we manage death-care – Pursuit

Death is a phenomenon like no other. It touches all dimensions of human experience, as a biological process and as an event of profound cultural, spiritual, economic, legal, and social significance.

Despite this, we lack a comprehensive system for dealing with death that respects people’s wishes and dignity, that is sustainable from both environmental and financial perspectives, and that responds to diverse and changing needs and values in our society.

And this is a serious problem because as baby boomers age, Australia will enter a period of “peak death” and the need for creative, effective and lasting solutions is now urgent.

Read the rest of this article at Pursuit, the University of Melbourne’s multi-media platform for research and expert opinion.


Art, Death & Disposal exhibition (12-16 Jan)

How might disposal of the deceased be designed in the 21st century? Imagining beyond burial and cremation – in a world of rapid social, technological and environmental change – seven artists respond to this question, presenting moving and provocative new work.

In collaboration with DeathTech Research Team, University of Melbourne

The exhibition is part of ongoing research on the future of disposal after death, and encourages visitors’ responses to, and participation in, artworks.

NEW DATES IN JANUARY 2022
Opening: 12 January, 6–8pm
Exhibition dates: 13–16 January, 3–8pm
Meat Market Stables, 2 Wreckyn Street, North Melbourne

Curated by Elizabeth Hallam, University of Oxford, with the DeathTech Research Team, University of Melbourne.

Acknowledgements
Supported by Australian Research Council grants DP18010314 and LP180100757.
Photo credit: Laura Woodward, How do we hold these things together? (detail), 2021, image by the artist.


Results of The Future Cemetery Survey 2021 [Report]

The DeathTech Research Team is pleased to present the results of the Future Cemetery Survey 2021. Based on a nationally representative sample taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, this research provides a snapshot of Australians’ experiences with and attitudes towards funerals, cemeteries and technologies for the treatment and commemoration of the dead.

Findings

  • Cremation is by far the most popular choice for what Australians would like to be done with their body after they die (selected by 48% of respondents in the survey).
  • Substantial minorities of Australians would choose to donate their body for use in medical research and education (12%) or have it converted to soil through the process known as ‘human composting’ or ‘natural organic reduction’ (5%).
  • A majority of Australians (58%) are in favour of cemeteries being used for secondary purposes such as nature conservation, tourism or education.
  • A majority of Australians are in favour of renewable gravesite tenure—making the interment rights to a grave temporary rather than perpetual—either as an option (49%) or as a mandatory standard (14%). New South Wales recently joined Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania in allowing renewable tenure, whereas Victoria, Queensland and the Territories currently mandate perpetual tenure for all interments.
  • In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of Australians (46%) had attended a funeral service. One in eight Australians (12%) had attended a funeral remotely via online video.
  • Many Australians are open to services that offer ways to commemorate the dead via the internet. Online funeral streaming, online memorial websites, gravesite webcams and gravesite-care-hire services all received more positive responses than negative responses in the survey.
  • Australians are generally sceptical of digital technologies designed for use at the cemetery unless those technologies have a clear justification.
  • Younger Australians are more positive than older Australians towards digital commemoration technologies. It remains to be seen whether this is a durable shift in attitudes that could lead to digital commemoration technologies becoming more accepted over time.

Method

The research was conducted through an online survey platform in mid-2021. A total of n=1,053 respondents completed the survey. All respondents were 18 years of age or older. Respondents were screened to ensure a representative sample of the Australian adult population, stratified by age, gender and state or territory of residence.

All the commemoration technologies presented in the survey were based on real-world examples. These were drawn from prior work by the DeathTech Research Team, including the Encyclopedia of Cemetery Technology: https://cemeterytech.omeka.net/

About the project

The Future Cemetery project aims to 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 rapidly changing circumstances. For more information, please see our projects page.

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