Leonie Kellaher 2006

The Cities Institute, London Metropolitan University, UK

Cosmopolitan ‘rootedness’ and the ethnic cemetery

Processes implicated in globalisation are focusing attention on identities in a world where traditional ideas of people as members of fixed, distinct societies and cultures no longer hold. For some incoming and settled groups the cemetery can be a liminal space engendering cosmopolitan engagement, through evocation of place of origin whilst reflecting the genesis of a new situational identity. Geography and chronology are reshaped and history becomes spatial in cemeteries where burial has overtaken the repatriation option after a death. This paper, based on an ESRC funded project to explore contemporary meanings of the cemetery for a range of ethnic groups, describes three – Irish, Cypriot and Gujurati – and the burial places they have maintained for their dead over varying lengths of settlement.  Two sets of issues are addressed.  First, to argue that, for members of minority and immigrant ethnic groups, cemeteries contribute to emergent and established meanings of community that transcend the familial and generational. Second, though cemeteries bridge worlds – of the dead and of the living and link places of origin and settlement, they also serve to distinguish – from host groups or other settlers. The balancing of assimilation and resistance, particularly where death is entailed, can shed light on the nature of cosmopolitan ‘rootedness’.  


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract