The Nature of Death in the United States: Varied Deathways Reflect Social Relations with Nature


Deathways in the United States are varied and complex. They reflect different cultural heritages and understandings of the world. Mainstream American deathways rely heavily on technological mediation and credentialed experts in corpse disposition. This is informed by a history of application of the logic of science, and engagement with the establishment of science, in death practices. People who align with the green burial and/or death positivity movement see a need for the development of death practices – perhaps part of a larger, credentialed industry, perhaps not – that are more ecologically oriented. And the Blackfeet people engage with deathways which are steeped with their cultural understandings and traditions. They engage with and relate to corpses as social beings, with continued spiritual needs, and which will return to the earth to sustain new growth of life.
These wide-ranging understandings of how death has meaning and relevance to the living all indicate how naturework can be performed in a number of ways. Deathways may serve to reinforce the human-nature dichotomy, as in contemporary traditional deathways, in which the corpse is alienated and commodified. They can also challenge the separation of humans from nature, as in the Blackfeet traditions, which are informed by their cultural understanding that humans and all other living things are related and interdependent.
Deathways in the United States are complex, dynamic and shifting. We have seen that there was a major change in how Americans interact with and understand death and corpses at the turn of the twentieth century, and we have also seen how that modern paradigm is being challenged and refined by the green burial and death positivity movements. In the face of modern environmental crises, American culture grapples with how we understand and define human-nature relations, and that struggle is reflected in the public discourse surrounding death and corpse disposition.
How will American deathways continue to change as we move farther into the twenty-first century? Whatever directions they take, it seems very likely they will continue to parallel American ways of relating to the natural world.

This page has paths:

This page references: