Meyer, Morgan and Woodthorpe, Kate
The Material Presence of Absence: a dialogue between museums and cemeteries.
Sociological Research Online, 13(5)
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This is an exploratory paper that aims to stimulate a dialogue between those interested in two particular spaces in society: the museum and the cemetery. Using empirical evidence from two research projects, the paper considers similarities and differences between the two sites, which are further explored through theoretical ideas about the social life of things and the agency of absence. Examining the materiality of these spaces, the paper addresses the role of objects in these two spaces and their respective associations with death, either through the dead themselves or the representation of those who have once lived. In particular, it explores the 'presence of absence' through three key points: its spatiality, its materiality, and its agency. Museums and cemeteries are, in this sense, directly comparable, as both spaces are shaped by and built upon the practice of making the absent present. Called 'heterotopic' by Foucault (1986) in that they are layered with multiple meanings, this paper will also argue for an understanding of museums and cemeteries as being able to transcend absence. Underpinning this is the belief that there remains much scope for future connections to be made between these two sites, theoretically, politically and practically.
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