Embodied relationality and caring after death

Ribbens McCarthy, Jane and Prokhovnik, Raia (2014). Embodied relationality and caring after death. Body & Society, 20(2) pp. 18–43.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1357034X13506469


We explore contested meanings around care and relationality through the underexplored case of caring after death, throwing the relational significance of ‘bodies’ into sharp relief. While the dominant social imaginary and forms of knowledge production in many affluent western societies take death to signify an absolute loss of the other in the demise of their physical body, important implications follow from recognising that embodied relational experience can continue after death. Drawing on a model of embodied relational care encompassing a ‘me’, a ‘you’ and an ‘us’, we argue that after death ‘me’ and ‘us’ remain (though changed) while crucial dimensions of ‘you’ persist too. In unravelling the binary divide between living and dead bodies, other related dichotomies of mind/body, self/other, internal/external, and nature/social are also called into question, extending debates concerning relationality and openness between living bodies. Through an exploration of autobiographical accounts and empirical research, we argue that embodied relationality expresses how connectedness is lived out after death in material practices and felt experiences.

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