Maren Kurz 2007

University College, London, UK

Contested futures: contemporary practices in West Norwood Cemetery

During the course of my ethnographic fieldwork West Norwood Cemetery, one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries in London, became one of the focus points of my research. One of the main questions encountered throughout my work is how contemporary practices within the material and social dimension of the cemetery shape its future, with a particular emphasis on Victorian cemeteries as contested landscapes, contemporary heritage practices and material culture. This paper will explore these three themes from an anthropological perspective using an in-depth case-study of West Norwood Cemetery in order to provide ethnographic context. The paper will discuss examples of how the three themes are materially and/or socially articulated and represented within the cemetery landscape and propose ways in which they may be argued to be indicative of wider social phenomena, for instance by relating to our understanding of the past, in particular the role of the Victorian era. Utilising established anthropological concepts, such as the nature/culture divide and phenomenological approaches towards landscape and materiality, the paper will show that by utilising these in the study of the contemporary condition of Victorian cemeteries questions about the contested nature of the future of existing cemetery landscapes can be explored and that these questions relate directly to larger social concerns at the heart of the anthropological project.


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