Dealing with a dead spouse: a comparative cultural perspective
Paper short abstract:
By adopting a comparative perspective on the treatment of death that draws on a clinical practice in France and on fieldwork in an Australian Aboriginal community, I will try to account for funerary prescriptions that apply specifically to spouses in a number of societies.
Paper long abstract:
The event of "death" confronts the members of a community with three types of phenomena: (1) the presence of a corpse, (2) the emotional reactions of those close to the departed, and (3) collective expressions pertaining to loss, grieving and human mortality. In contemporary Western societies, these phenomena tend to be handled independently of each other. The corpse is taken in charge almost exclusively by medical institutions and funeral homes and the treatment it undergoes can be understood as a kind of physical decontamination. The emotional reactions of those close to the deceased falls to specialized practitioners - the "psy" - whose work can be interpreted as a process of relational decontmination. Collective expressions of loss, sorrow and grieving take the form of distanced, mediatised (literary, artistic, cinematographic, televised) representations. By adopting a comparative perspective on the treatment of death in Western and other cultural contexts, drawing on material collected both within the framework of a clinical practice in France and in the course of ethnographic fieldwork in an Australian Aboriginal community, I will try to account for prescriptions that apply specifically to spouses in a number of societies. These prescriptions are organized around the requirement to at once physically and relationally decontaminate those whose identity has been transformed by a prolonged, close intimacy with the deceased. From this point of view, the separation of mothers and sons in traditional Arrernte initiation rites provides a revealing counterpart.
Mourning, intimacy and the special character of the conjugal relationship