Mortuary Rituals

Authored by: Satsuki Kawano

The Ashgate Research Companion to Anthropology

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754677031
eBook ISBN: 9781315612744
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044116


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There has been renewed interest in mortuary rituals, which constitute one of the classic research topics for anthropological investigation. Mortuary rites had long been quintessentially understood for their integrative functions that serve to maintain a harmonious whole. However, recent approaches to mortuary rituals reveal the ways in which social actors strategically mobilize them in a rapidly changing society (De Boeck 2009; De Witte 2001, 2003; Gable 2006). Mortuary rites are occasions for various groups of people to negotiate or shape social relationships in a society characterized by diversity and stratification (Kawano 2010; Jindra and Noret 2011; Smith 2004). This shift partly reflects the revised view of what constitutes a field site in the larger discipline of anthropology. The locality where an anthropologist conducts fieldwork is no longer regarded as an isolated, more-or-less internally coherent unit set apart from global economic and political relations. A growing body of literature on mortuary rites incorporates such a view and examines mortuary rites as opportunities for strategic engagement shaped by the larger politico-economic forces, even though, to an outsider, the ritual may appear to be an unchanging, ahistorical practice of “tradition.”

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