Kate Woodthorpe 2005

University of Sheffield, UK

The ‘good’ and ‘bad’ disposal of the deceased

Arguably death is no longer the ‘taboo’ that is was once infamously described as by Ariès, evidenced by the wealth of information available now on death and dying. In many ways this growth in a Sociology of Death is as a result of the development of the palliative care movement. This paper proposes that within a Sociology of Death the dying process and bereavement care have dominated discussion, and that the disposal of the body and memorialisation are the marginalised (the taboo) topics of today. To illustrate this there is a aversion to using the term ‘disposal’ in literature due to the connotations of rubbish and garbage attached to it, and there is a lack of sociological study into what happens to the body and its site of memorialisation in the longer term.

Using concepts explored by Julia Lawton and Beverley McNamara of a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ death, this paper proposes that these concepts could be applicable to the disposal and commemoration of the deceased, which are highly visible in the cemetery site. This paper is a presentation of preliminary data gathered at the City of London Cemetery on perspectives of cemetery landscape conservation. The cemetery is in an on-going process of preserving the historical elements of the cemetery, whilst providing a quality service for the users and ensuring that there is space for future disposal. Drawing on what is observed as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ activity and behaviour in the cemetery, it will discuss how patterns of activity and memorialisation are negotiated between the users and the staff of the cemetery, and the effect these decisions have on the cemetery landscape. This will include an exploration of what constitutes heritage and conservation, the use of permanent and temporal memorialisation, emotion management and ownership of the cemetery site.


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