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In this contribution, Jan Bleyen historicize and deconstructs the idea of death as being a new problem of the human experience. In the still young research of death and grief, mainly rooted within psychology and sociology, the idea of a decreased death culture was first succesful, but has recently been unmasked as nostalgic. It was only by generalizing current practices as being problematic and idealizing past realities, that narratives of decline had been convincing. Interestingly, the complaint of the new problem of death already existed in the 1950s as evidenced by Flemish journals reporting on All Soulls Days.
This book offers a descriptively rich account of how death-related practices have evolved in Flanders since 1950. Although it concentrates on the city of Westmalle, it presents many historical data that cover a larger area. Apart from specific populations (such as those living in remote rural areas, or migrants), most of Bleyen’s observations apply to Belgium in general and offer many similarities to what has been described in other countries such as France and England. The author distances himself from the widespread idea that current death-related practices are poor and meaningless compared to previous ones. His analysis goes far beyond common stereotypes. By showing the complexity of contemporary funerary practices, he questions the so-called ‘‘taboo on death.’’ According to Bleyen, the fact that current death-related rituals are d...
Death is generally considered not only one of the few certainties of life, but also one of its ultimate mysteries. The act of defining and conceptualizing death always leads to other questions about the human experience such as the body and social identity. The abstract idea of death can only made present through metaphors: conceptual constructs that are pervasive not only in language but also in thought and practice. Death thus appears to be no more than a word of which the definition depends rather on the social context than on one primordial essence. Moreover, understanding death inevitably involves defining life: both concepts are related to one another in a dynamic relationship.
The main question of this chapter is the following: ‘What effects do spaces and objects have on the everyday life of parents whose child’s biological life ended at birth?’ In particular, its focus is on embodied actions that involve things which have a connection to the child. The crux of the question, then, is how through these actions – especially in the informal sphere of the home but also in the delivery room and at the cemetery – concepts such as ‘death’, ‘grief’, ‘time’, and the ‘life course’ are being metaphorically performed and hence made sense of in historically-specific ways. Since the dead infant is without a directly embodied social identity, for parents it is unclear who and what has been lost. Nevertheless, this chapter shows how such babies have still materialised within space and time, and how objects-in-space, such as...
Death is considered an appropriate occurrence of human experience when it is not out of place according to personal and cultural norms. Whether regarding our own death or the death of others, we always refer to a complex aggregate of many ingredients or criteria of appropriateness when we label a death. It is a person’s concrete way of dying but also his or her life (one’s age, self-fulfillment and morality) that are concurrently referred to as quintessential conditions of appropriate death. Therefore, almost no death is experienced as fully appropriate.
In deze bijdrage leid ik de volgende vraag en discussie in: kunnen rituelen uniek en eenmalig zijn? Ik bereid mijn antwoord voor in die drie denkstappen: ik definieer rituelen op een ruime manier, geef een voorbeeld uit de hedendaagse uitvaartpraktijk, en plaats het vervolgens in de historische context
From its inception in the mid-twentieth century, the field of death studies has been challenged by the popular idea that both death and grief have become a new problem in the human experience. Yet, it was only in the seventies that the immediate knowledge about the past among sociologists and psychologists, who were denouncing the loss of mourning rituals, was proved right by historical evidence. With his social history of death, published in 1974 and 1981 under the titles Western Attitudes towards Death and The Hour of Our Death, the French historian Philippe Ariès (1914-1984) supported the pessimistic belief among journalists, intellectuals, and scholars alike, that something profound had been lost. In his historical accounts covering the last 1,500 years, death indeed ended up being ‘invisible’ and ‘wild’, in contrast to its earlie...
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