Louis Dall'aglio 2023

Laboratoire EVS (UMR 5600), Lyon

From heterotopias to discipline and punish: on French cemeteries as disciplinary devices [v]

Matthew Gandy’s 2012 proposal of cemeteries as spaces where ‘heterotopic alliances’ can flourish, stemming from his reading of Foucault’s 1964 work on heterotopias, questions the ability of cemeteries to be places where strange forms of life, both human and non-human, can meet and form unexpected networks. The point of this communication is to contradict and complete Gandy’s theorization. We discuss Gandy’s idea of the cemetery’s “queerness” through the analysis of 32 French cemeteries’ rules and regulations. Through this analysis, we discuss the role of the French cemetery as a political device in late 19th century France, and its role in the laicization and republicanizing of the French citizens. This role, however, leaves very little space, figuratively and literally, for citizens in the cemetery management and agency. As it stands, the living and the dead ought to be morally and physically disciplined within the cemetery; recent changes in the French funerary practices, such as the development of garden of remembrance, which were made mandatory in 2008, only seem to reinforce the focus on the collective nature of this device. While national legislation produced during the 20th century tries to emphasize individual freedom when it comes to funerary practices, especially on the aesthetical aspect, local regulations tend to remind every citizen that the French cemetery is less of an aggregate of individual burial space than a collective space ordered by rules good citizens ought to comply to, thus questioning the capacity of French cemeteries to foster ‘heterotopic alliances’.


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