Kate Woodthorpe 2007

University of Sheffield, UK

Tension and negotiation: the everyday contestation and construction of culture, discourse and practice in the contemporary cemetery landscape

One does not have to look far nowadays to find evidence in the modern media of cemeteries making the news (see BBC 2003; 2005; 2006). Be it grave desecration, memorial regulation or safety in the local cemetery, they are sites that can frequently garner press attention, usually not for the most favourable of reasons. However, this attention does not equate to a general rise in the profile of cemeteries across the country which, this paper suggests, partly stems from the considerable ambiguities and contradictions that surround the contemporary cemetery in terms of its purpose, management and usage. This paper is an overview of some of these ambiguities from the perspective of cemetery users and visitors, staff and the local community. It achieves this by exploring the cemetery landscape at different scales – moving from the detail of activity at the graveside, out to the management of the whole site and then wider still to the influence of cultural discourses of grief and conservation which frame cemetery management more broadly. Issues of contestation over ownership of grave plots, contradicting principles of rationality and the long-term sustainability of the site come together in this shared dynamic space to both liberate and control activity and practice. It is how this happens and the effect this has on the cemetery landscape that is the focus of this paper, which is taken from an ethnographic project based at the City of London Cemetery.


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