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American Afterlives: Ghosts in the Commodity

Issue: Vol 6 No. 2 (2019)

Journal: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology

Subject Areas: Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jca.36898


In the United States, death practices have been undergoing a rapid transformation in the last 20 years. Moves towards creative, individualized observances are accompanied by new material practices. I deploy ethnographic examples of three entrepreneurs who make objects from cremated human remains. The entities discussed here cannot be comfortably called either human or non-human. They are both. And they are designed to facilitate on ongoing relationship with the dead. These new entities are not exactly commodities, although they may be produced through similar means. Embraced primarily by agnostics, they are not exactly religious relics, although they contain preserved parts of the human body. They come closest to being a personal fetish, or a radically material type of ghost.

Author: Shannon Lee Dawdy

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