Bel Deering 2006

University of Sussex, UK

From ASBOs to X-rated: exploring the social diversity of the cemetery

Visitors to cemeteries and churchyards exhibit a wide array of value systems, harbouring perceptions that range from sacred and sombre to scary or seductive. These values impact on behaviour and mean that cemeteries perform social roles varying in scope from a site of mourning to gang territory. The multiple roles, however, are not always complementary. This research examines real and potential conflict, resolution and the influence this has on the cemetery environment. In this paper we take two journeys in pursuit of deeper understanding of the social diversity in cemeteries. The first journey is a physical one which documents experiences and observations of interviewees about the activities common to burial grounds. It interrogates the reality, motivations and dynamics of visitors and considers how they assimilate their visit(s) into everyday life. The second journey takes place in the virtual dimension, travelling through websites and blogs to gain insight into the opinions and attitudes held about graveyards. Taken together, these voyages form the starting point for an exploration of alternative graveyard behaviours ranging from vandalism, to drug taking and sex. The more extreme or transgressive activities recorded in cemeteries can be viewed as disrespectful, conflicting or inappropriate in a place designed for burial and mourning; this paper posits an alternative understanding. I suggest that the majority of visitors to cemeteries make a positive contribution and that both real and virtual excursions can promote and enhance the cemetery as a place for the living and the dead.


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