How loved ones are overcoming funeral restrictions

DeathTech team member Hannah Gould was interviewed for an article in The Canberra Times, exploring how funeral practice is adapting to COVID-19 conditions:

There are other ways in which funerals may change permanently, according to Dr Hannah Gould, an anthropologist at the University of Melbourne who studies the rituals of death around the world.

“We want to be careful and not make universal judgments,” she told The Canberra Times. People grieve and remember the dead in different ways, not just in different countries but within Australia.

There were new ways of remembering people, like drawing up Spotify play-lists of their music where the mourners each chose a favourite song associated with the deceased. The play-list could be shared and happy memories triggered.

People could meet on video chat sites to remember the dead, perhaps after watching a live-stream of the funeral.

She said that when a friend of her father’s died, his pals organised a trivia night in his memory. 

Mourning takes many new forms. 

“It takes a bit of creativity,” Dr Gould said, with approval.

You can read the full article here.


Death in a Time of Corona

Help us understand how COVID-19 is changing deathcare, funerals, and memorialisation worldwide by contributing to this collaborative, open research platform.

We have established a platform to share accounts of how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing deathcare, including end-of-life and mortuary care, arranging funerals, and ongoing memorialisation. This information is of interest to us as part of research into death and technology in the 21st century led by the DeathTech Research Team at The University of Melbourne. We’d like to know what you are experiencing now – e.g. how are funerals happening, how are bodies being handled, what is different?

Please upload your reflections to the interactive map here. (https://padlet.com/hannahgould/deathduringcorona) To add a reflection, click on the large plus sign, select a location, and then add your text. You can also email deathtech-research@unimelb.edu.au if you would prefer that we upload your contribution.

We’re particularly interested in first-person accounts, reflections on new technologies being use and new rituals, and the emotional, professional, and social impact of these changes. You can include links to news articles, images, or videos. The researchers will also add published articles about death during COVID-19 to the map. 

You can choose to upload anonymously if you wish. You can also choose to identify yourself and/or your company in the post. The location you set for the post can be as specific or general as you wish. 

Privacy and Access

As an open platform, you can also view what is happening elsewhere in the world and learn from others facing similar circumstances. This means that your contribution will be public, and access is not limited to the research team. 

You are free to withdraw your contribution at any time. Please contact DeathTech (deathtech-research@unimelb.edu.au) to do so.

If you are uploading images or videos, please ensure you are the one to have taken them (or can cite the original source) and have permission of those in them to upload the image/video. 

The software platform being used for this project is called Padlet. The privacy policy for Padlet can be found here.

If you would like more information about the wider project, please contact the DeathTech Research Team (deathtech-research@unimelb.edu.au).

This is part of a research project that has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of The University of Melbourne. Ethics ID number 1954540.1.


Coronavirus has changed death and funerals — but new rituals can help us grieve

A new piece out with ABC News explores the emergence of rituals during the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing restrictions that have transformed funeral practice.

DeathTech team member Professor Tamara Kohn said of funerals under coronavirus restrictions:

We now need to produce a different kind of intimacy.

The full article can be found here.


Small funerals, online memorials and grieving from afar: the coronavirus is changing how we care for the dead

The team has a new article in The Conversation discussing the transformation of death rites in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“The coronavirus is not only affecting the way we live, it’s also dramatically affecting the way we die.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that funerals would be limited to a maximum of ten people to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, the states may have some leeway in permitting an extra one or two.

Funeral directors say they are concerned about the availability of crucial health supplies such as masks, hand sanitiser and body bags.

In Italy, people with COVID-19 reportedly “face death alone”, with palliative care services stretched to the limit, morgues inundated, funeral services suspended, and many dead unburied and uncremated.

In Iran, satellite photography shows trenches being excavated for mass burials.

As Australia’s coronavirus response moves into a critical period, these examples remind us that how we care for the dead must be part of our pandemic plan.”

Read the full article at The Conversation.


CfP Memorial Publics workshop

Memorial Publics – a workshop on innovative research methods and emerging issues in public communication around the dead and their memorials

Date: Tuesday 19 May, 9:00am-5:00pm

Location: Brisbane Australia, The Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith U Southbank Campus

Sponsoring ICA Division: Popular Communication

Organisers: Larissa Hjorth (RMIT); Margaret Gibson (Griffith); Bjorn Nansen (Melbourne)

Contact: nansenb@unimelb.edu.au

Cost: free

Website: https://www.icahdq.org/page/2020PrePostconf

Description: This one-day pre-conference workshop, supported by the Death Online Research Network, the DeathTech Research Network at the University of Melbourne, and the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, aims to bring together a diverse range of scholars working across the many disciplines with an interest in the intersection of death, media, and public memorialising. In keeping with the theme of the 70th annual ICA conference, the workshop aims to support openness of communication through an interdisciplinary approach, and through an inclusive format of short presentations followed by lengthy discussions around emerging and innovative research methods and issues in the field of death and media and communications research. The focus of the workshop is centred on questions of openness in the public engagement around communicating and memorialising the deceased across digital platforms, and in the mediation of public spaces by digital and mobile technologies. Across the diverse places and spaces in which the dead are remembered and memorialised, increasingly tricky questions are emerging around the norms, protocols, and practices of memorial publics, including questions of access, obligation, trust and ethics, which this workshop will explore. We welcome submissions from methodological, theoretical and empirical inquiries that examine memorial publics.

Submitting your abstract: Please submit your abstract of 300-500 words to nansenb@unimelb.edu.au

Contributors will be selected by peer-review and notified by February 1, 2020. Authors are expected to attend the preconference and present in person.

To register, participants should follow the instructions here.

Key dates

* 20 January 2020: Deadline for abstract submission

* 1 February 2020: Corresponding authors notified of decisions

* 1 May 2020: Conference registrations close

* 19 May 2020: Pre-conference starts in Brisbane


On Optimism and Death: Public Program for Exhibition @ Margaret Lawrence Gallery

This October, DeathTech Research Team member Tamara Kohn participated in a panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition Hope Dies Last: Art at the End of Optimism.

Hope Dies Last: Art at the End of Optimism is a curated exhibition of Australian and international contemporary art presented across two sites, Gertrude Contemporary and the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts. The project focuses on how artists consider the depletion of optimism, how they might envisage the end of days, and how they make sense of these tumultuous times. Exploring themes of mortality, fatalism, extinction, pain (both emotional and physical), failure and downfall, the works largely focus on the specific moment when hope evaporates for the final time. Explored with compassion, humour, sadness and resignation, Hope Dies Last confronts our individual and collective anxieties around death, reminding us of the certainty of this fate, yet recognising this conclusionary moment as one we will experience alone. Hope Dies Last will be one of the most depressing events of the year, an exhibition that will riddle us with sadness, and likely leave us more pessimistic than we have ever been before. 

The panel discussion assembled a selection of esteemed speakers whose professional lives can involve considerations of death and grief. Drawing in a range of perspectives, the discussion traversed across ideas of mortality, memorialisation, the defence of life, and the pragmatics of death. Hopefully not as bleak as it sounds, On Optimism and Death offered a unique platform to consider the prospect of death and its impacts – personally and collectively – through the lenses of anthropology, the legal system, the arts and the funerary industry. 

On Optimism and Death was chaired by Mark Feary, Artistic Director,
Gertrude Contemporary

Participating Speakers:

Eric Jong, exhibiting artist
In the exhibition Hope Dies Last, Eric Jong presents the work Death and Paperwork(2017), from the project Too Poor To Die focussing on destitute funerals for persons lacking the financial resources to pay for their own funerals. For this project, the artist worked closely with Bereavement Assistance, a not for profit organisation
in Melbourne.

Professor Tamara Kohn, Professor of Anthropology,
The University of Melbourne
Tamara Kohn is a Professor of Anthropology with extensive fieldwork experience in the Scottish Hebrides, the eastern hills of Nepal, and more recently Japan.  She has held research and teaching positions in England (Oxford and Durham) and Australia (the University of Melbourne). Her research focuses on identity and experience, the study of trans-cultural communities of practice (from caring practices to sports and other embodied arts), mobility (migration, intermarriage, leisure/travel), death studies, methods and ethics, and the anthropology of the senses.

Audrey Lake, Funeral Consultant
Audrey Lake has spent 13 years working with death in diverse settings, beginning her career as a counsellor in palliative care. With an interest in forensics and the criminal justice process she moved onto roles with the Initial Investigations Office at the Coroners Court of Victoria and the Victims Support Unit at Victoria Police working with families through the early stages of unexpected or traumatic bereavement. Subsequently she transitioned into working as a mortician at the Victorian Institute of Forensic, a coronial undertaker and a funeral consultant for a not for profit
funeral company.

Michael O’Connell SC, Judge, County Court of Victoria
Michael O’Connell was appointed to the Victorian Bar in 1990 and as Senior Counsel in 2008. During his 30-year legal career, he has been involved in several homicide, terrorism, white collar crime, sexual offences and occupational health and safety cases. The barrister served as part of the team of Australian lawyers representing accused members of the Bali Nine, including Myuran Sukumaran.




Picking Up STEAM Podcast

We are seeing a disruption of death. It is normal for people to post on social media at a funeral; you can speak to a chatbot or a physical avatar with the data of a dead loved one; you can curate Spotify playlists to play in coffins. Why? Experts Bjorn Nansen and Tamara Kohn speak with Thomas Feng about the eerie new developments of death in this episode of Picking Up STEAM.

Listen to the episode here.


Dead Calm @ Wheeler Centre

In September, Bjorn Nansen participated in a round table discussion on “Memorials” in the series of talks, Dead Calm: Honest Conversations About Death, hosted by the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. The series aims to “set aside the euphemism, and tackle the taboos head-on” by bringing together diverse voices of scholars, community activists, artists, and writers.

The discussion on memorials was framed as follows:

“We’ve always built memorials to our dead. But how do our memorials and commemorations differ across cultures and how are they changing in the 21st Century? Why do we have different types of memorials for different kinds of death?

In the third part of our Dead Calm series, Hilary Harper will explore the role, relevance and relief offered by memorials after death and disaster. What do official and unofficial commemorations mean and how do they affect the ways we mourn? From public shrines for war veterans to community commemorations for natural disasters to highly personal embodiments of grief – online, on social media, or at roadsides – these markers continue to play a role in how we process grief.”

Listen to the episode here.


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