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.


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.

Downloads


Burial, cremation, or the ‘Gentle Way’? – Triple J’s Hack

Professor Michael Arnold spoke to Tamsin Rose of Triple J’s Hack to discuss what’s changing in the way we treat human remains:

If you take the view that every step that can be taken should be taken, then one might say we should be looking for methods of disposition which are much more environmentally friendly.

The full story is available on the Hack website and in this episode of the Hack podcast.


Public webinar: What is critical and what is hidden in the time of COVID-19?

Questions of what or who is critical to managing the COVID-19 pandemic have been at the heart of media discussion, public recognition and government policy on a global scale. Such concerns – of what constitutes critical workers, material resources, public services and community responses – are being addressed and prioritised at local and national levels in different ways, even as collective anxieties over the COVID-19 pandemic vie for attention with other social, economic or political crises in given places. In this context, it becomes important to consider what is hidden or unseen amid a global pandemic, of how individuals, communities and other key workers are excluded from ‘frontline’ imaginings of crisis and pandemic.

Drawing on research expertise and insights from Australia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, India and Indonesia, this Critical Issues panel event will explore these issues, asking what is both critical and hidden in the time of COVID-19.

When: Thursday, 4 November from 5:30pm to 7:00pm AEDT

Where: Online (Zoom link will be sent by email following registration)

Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/what-is-critical-and-what-is-hidden-in-the-time-of-covid-19-tickets-189989623077

Enquires: Jenny Li, zhen.li@unimelb.edu.au

Speakers

  • Tamara Kohn, Professor of Anthropology, University of Melbourne
  • Monica Minnegal, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Melbourne
  • Jeff Garmany, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies, University of Melbourne
  • Rachael Diprose, Senior Lecturer in Indonesian Studies, University of Melbourne
  • Amanda Gilbertson, Senior Research Fellow in Anthropology, University of Melbourne
  • Paul Green, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Melbourne

An Essential Service: Experiences of Australian Deathcare Workers during COVID-19 [Report]

An Essential Service examines on the experiences of Australian deathcare workers during COVID-19.

Deathcare is an essential service, one that upholds the dignity of the dying and the deceased, addresses the emotional, cultural, and spiritual needs of the bereaved and their community, and protects public health. However, the ongoing lack of recognition for deathcare as essential during the COVID-19 crisis, both within public health directives, and more broadly, by the media, non-governmental and commercial bodies, and the wider community, has impeded the sector’s ability to delivery high-quality care and to protect the welfare of its workers.

The report presents the results of a scoping investigation for the period between June 2020 and June 2021. It is based on qualitative data collected via a survey of Australian deathcare providers and semi-structured interviews with workers representing different segments of the sector. It focuses on the professional and personal impacts of COVID-19 and makes several recommendations for future policy and research.

Citation: Gould, Hannah & Samuel Holleran (2021) An Essential Service: Experiences of Australian Deathcare Workers during COVID-19 [Report]. The University of Melbourne.

In addition to the report, the team is releasing a public preview of our photo exhibition, entitled Endline: Deathcare During Melbourne’s Covid Crisis.

Endline is a photo series by Bri Hammond, created in collaboration with the researchers Hannah Gould and Samuel Holleran. It pays tribute to the diverse people who work in deathcare, from palliative care clinicians and funeral directors, to morticians, religious celebrants, crematoria operators, and cemetery staff.

Endline will be issued as a photo book accompanied by essays. Endline will also be exhibited in Melbourne at the beginning of 2022. See the website for a preview of the images.


Public seminar: Digital Technologies for the Future Cemetery

In this public seminar for the University of Melbourne School of Computing & Information Systems, Dr Fraser Allison presented several studies from The Future Cemetery project.

He introduced the major challenges that cemeteries face in the 21st century, described notable examples and a typology of digital cemetery technologies from around the world, and summarised what we have found about public attitudes to digital cemetery technologies in Australia.


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