Human Remains and Violence: COVID-19 special

Posted by Christian Lea - Thursday, 25 Nov 2021


Issue 7.2 of Human Remains and Violence is the first part of a double issue investigating COVID-19.

It was during the early stages of the first lockdown that the editors realised the methods they had developed over five years of publishing the journal could be usefully put to work in analysing the crisis. Health systems and funerary companies were facing unprecedented challenges, while families were suffering the double tragedy of losing loved ones and not being able to properly mourn them. Human Remains and Violence focuses on outbreaks of mass violence and their aftermath, but its approaches to the treatment of human remains were beginning to seem increasingly, and shockingly, relevant.

The double issue, titled ‘Burial and the politics of dead bodies in times of COVID-19’, is guest-edited by Gaëlle Clavandier (Université Jean-Monnet Saint-Etienne), Graham Denyer Willis (University of Cambridge) and Finn Stepputat (Danish Institute for International Studies), three experts in mourning, funerals and the treatment of corpses in peacetime. The articles in part one, written by an international group of scholars, approach the pandemic from a variety of angles. They offer case studies from present-day France, Switzerland, Mexico and Brazil, as well as an illuminating investigation of an outbreak of yellow fever in antebellum Virginia.

Together, the articles demonstrate how the theme of mass death can serve as a key tool in studying COVID-19, shedding light on subjects such as funerary rituals, the place of religion in highly secularised societies, the publication of pictures of cadavers and/or funerals and, of course, the changing uses of communication technologies, notably through the advent of ‘Zoom dying’ and ‘Zoom funerals’.

Part two of the COVID-19 special issue will follow in spring 2022.

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