Beyond the Womb and the Tomb: Identity, (Dis)embodiment and the Life Course

Jenny, Hockey and Draper, Janet (2005). Beyond the Womb and the Tomb: Identity, (Dis)embodiment and the Life Course. Body & Society, 11(2) pp. 41–57.



Grounded in the authors’ theoretical and ethnographic work on pregnancy and social life after death, this article explores the ways in which the body is involved in processes of identification. With a focus on the embodied nature of social identity, the article nonetheless problematizes a model of the life course that begins at the moments of birth and ends at death. Instead, it offers a more extended temporal perspective and examines other ways in which identity may be claimed, for example, via material objects and practices which evoke the body as imagined or remembered. By documenting pre-birth and post-mortem identity-making of this kind, it demonstrates how the unborn and the dead may come into social existence. In addition, a cultural privileging of both the body and visuality is shown to shore up the capacity of material objects and practices to shape social identities in a highly selective fashion. The article therefore proposes that models of the life course need to accommodate the meanings of pre-birth and post-mortem materialities and so incorporate a conceptualization of social identity as contested, relational and inevitably incomplete.

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