Death-scapes in Taipei and Manila: a postmodernnecrography

Tremlett, Paul-Francois (2007). Death-scapes in Taipei and Manila: a postmodernnecrography. Taiwan in Comparative Perspsective, 1 pp. 23–36.



This paper analyses changing geographies of disposal in the urban centres of Taipei in Taiwan and Manila in the Philippines, specifically shifts from burial to cremation and the extent to which such shifts reflect changing patterns of residence, fraternity, mobility and conceptions of locality in both places. In this essay the term 'postmodern' will refer not to a body of theory but to material transformations in the structuring of the economy and polity marked by migration from rural areas to cities and the production of places and localities where 'traditional' signs of hierarchy, memory and belonging appear to have been abolished. It has been claimed that the analysis of social practices surrounding death 'throws into relief the most important cultural values by which people live their lives and evaluate their experiences' (Huntingdon and Metcalf 1979: 25). However, I shall argue that conventional anthropological approaches to death practices – which tend to focus on ritual rather than the sites of disposal – need radical revision in order to satisfactorily account for the kinds of changes that are specified over the course of this essay. Indeed, the privileged contextual horizon for conventional anthropological and sociological approaches to death, dying and disposal has been the concept of 'culture'. I will argue that the structuring of contemporary death rituals in both Taiwan and the Philippines is not local culture but rather, on the one hand, the modern state that seeks increasingly to intervene and regulate the minutiae of daily life and, on the other, the 'market' which continuously opens up new areas to the grasping hand of capital accumulation.

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