Anna-Katharine Balonier 2016

University of Liverpool

The space of the German cemetery in today’s consumer culture

This research explores the space of the cemetery and the importance of its role within today’s consumer culture in Germany. It acknowledges the cemetery as a heterotopia (Foucault, 1967/1984) – a material site which embodies a multiplicity of meanings that attach to a range of functions beyond “the disposal of human remains” (Rugg, 2000:260). Previous research has identified cemeteries as spaces of connectedness (Francis et al., 2000), of re-negotiation of the deceased’s identity (Francis et al., 2005) and of rituals and rites of passage (Rook, 1985). This work extends these findings in relation to contemporary consumer culture. The study is based on a 15 months in-depth ethnography in South-West Germany involving observations in cemeteries, interviews with bereaved individuals and funerary professionals, as well as shadowing these professionals in their work in an around the cemetery. Findings so far contribute to debates in consumer research surrounding the constitution of space and place. It particularly explores the ‘context of context’ (Askegaard and Linnet, 2011) of consumption in German cemeteries linking changing consumer choices – for example regarding symbolic and material elements such as burial site or gravestone design – to the wider socio-historical context. An increasing demand for less rigid regulations within municipal cemeteries and for more nature-oriented burial options gradually change the German cemetery toward a space with less memento mori and more memento vitae. As a consequence, the perception of the cemetery is changing as it invites people to appreciate their flora and nature as well as their quiet atmosphere.


Askegaard, S. and Linnet, J. T. (2011) ‘Towards an epistemology of consumer culture theory: phenomenology and the context of context’, Marketing Theory, 11(4), pp. 381–404.

Foucault, M. [1967] (1984) ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias (Translated from French by Jay Miskowiec)’, Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité, Octobre, pp. 1–9.

Francis, D., Kellaher, L. and Neophytou, G. (2000) ‘Sustaining cemeteries: The user perspective’, Mortality, 5(1), pp. 34–52.

Francis, D., Kellaher, L. and Neophytou, G. (2005) The Secret Cemetery. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Rook, D. W. (1985) ‘The Ritual Dimension of Consumer Behavior’, Journal of Consumer Research, 12(3), pp. 251–264.

Rugg, J. (2000) ‘Defining the place of burial: What makes a cemetery a cemetery?’, Mortality, 5(3), pp. 259–275.


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