Since the mid-19th century, the first world, western corpse has been inextricably linked with industrial age human technology. Contemporary concerns about the ecologically sustainable dead body focus on transforming the funeral into a natural or green process. Indeed, as people become more and more interested in the environmental impacts of their daily lives, many individuals are asking: How ecologically sustainable is death? What are the environmental impacts associated with handling the dead body? More importantly, why are some final disposition methods considered green and others natural?
What the 21st century concept of natural burial really suggests is a 19th century pre-industrial age model that often misses the following point: Human disposition of the dead body, by whatever means, is a humanly invented practice. Humans digging graves to bury corpses is no less a humanly invented postmortem technology than alkaline hydrolysis.
The broader philosophical and conceptual point is that the dead human body is organic matter, which, barring human intervention will always decompose. It is a form-of-life that comes into being only after death.
Future dead body technology is about the conditions of possibility that recognize the corpse for its true organic value: biomass.
Dr Troyer (who grew up in a funeral home) from the Centre for Death and Society has kindly stepped offer to deliver a talk in the place of Carla Valentine as part of our Life, Death (& the Rest) festival.
There will be an opportunity to ask John questions at the end about his work and his research.
Dr John Troyer is the Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. He is a co-founder of the Death Reference Desk website, the Future Cemetery Project and a frequent commentator for the BBC. His most recent book is Technologies of the Human Corpse (published by the MIT Press in 2018).