The handling of the deceased during the COVID-19 pandemic, a case study in France and Switzerland
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented global crisis. To limit the spread of the virus and the associated excess mortality, states and governing bodies have produced a series of regulations and recommendations from a health perspective. The funerary aspects of these directives have reconfigured not only the ways in which the process of dying can be accompanied, but also the management of dead bodies, impacting on the dying, their relatives and professionals in the sector. Since March 2020, the entire process of separation and farewell has been affected, giving rise to public debates about funeral restrictions and the implications for mourning. We carried out a study in France and Switzerland to measure the effects of this crisis, and in particular to explore whether it has involved a shift from a funerary approach to a strictly mortuary one. Have the practices that would normally be observed in non-pandemic times been irrevocably altered? Does this extend to all deaths? Has there been a switch to an exclusively technical handling? Are burial practices still respected? The results of the present study pertain to the ‘first wave’ of spring 2020 and focus on the practices of professionals working in the funeral sector.
This article analyses the management of bodies in Brazil within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its objective is to examine how the confluence of underreporting, inequality and alterations in the forms of classifying and managing bodies has produced a political practice that aims at the mass infection of the living and the quick disposal of the dead. We first present the factors involved in the process of underreporting of the disease and its effects on state registration and regulation of bodies. Our analysis then turns to the cemetery to problematise the dynamics through which inequality and racism are re-actualised and become central aspects of the management of the pandemic in Brazil. We will focus not only on the policies of managing bodies adopted during the pandemic but also on those associated with other historical periods, examining continuities and ruptures, as well as their relationship to long-term processes.
Presumed black immunity to yellow fever and the racial politics of burial labour in 1855 Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia
Michael D. Thompson
Epidemic disease regularly tore through nineteenth-century American cities, triggering public health crises and economic upheaval. These epidemic panics also provoked new racialised labour regimes, affecting the lives of innumerable working people. During yellow fever outbreaks, white authorities and employers preferred workers of colour over ‘unacclimated’ white immigrants, reflecting a common but mistaken belief in black invulnerability. This article chronicles enslaved burial labourers in antebellum Virginia, who leveraged this notion to seize various privileges – and nearly freedom. These episodes demonstrate that black labour, though not always black suffering or lives, mattered immensely to white officials managing these urban crises. Black workers were not mere tools for protecting white wealth and health, however, as they often risked torment and death to capitalise on employers’ desperation for their essential labour. This history exposes racial and socioeconomic divergence between those able to shelter or flee from infection, and those compelled to remain exposed and exploitable.
In the Catholic areas of Europe, the human remains (both their bones and the
fabrics they touched) of persons considered to have been exceptional are usually
stored for transformation into relics. The production and the reproduction of
the object-relic takes place within monasteries and is carried out firstly on
the material level. In this article I intend to present in detail, from an
anthropological standpoint, the practices used to process such remains, the role
of the social actors involved and the political-ecclesiastical dynamics
connected with them. Owing to obvious difficulties in accessing enclosed
communities, such practices are usually overlooked in historiographical and
ethno-anthropological analyses, while they should instead be considered the most
important moment in the lengthy process intended to give form and meaning to
remains, with a view to their exhibition and use in ritual.
In Normandy, near Rouen, in Tournedos-sur-Seine and Val-de-Reuil, two adult
skeletons thrown into wells during the Middle Ages have been studied. The wells
are located at two separate sites just 3 km apart. Both sites consist of
clustered settlements inhabited from the seventh to the tenth century and
arranged around a cemetery. The backfill of the well shafts contains animal
remains, but also partially or completely articulated human bodies. In
Val-de-Reuil, the incomplete skeleton of a man, probably representing a
secondary deposition, had traces of a violent blow on the skull, certainly with
a blunt weapon. In Tournedos-sur-Seine, a woman thrown in headfirst had several
impact points and bone fractures on the skull that could have been caused by
perimortem mistreatment or a violent death. After a detailed description of the
two finds and a contextualisation in the light of similar published cases, we
will discuss the possible scenarios for the death and deposition of the
individuals as well as their place in their communities.
The aim of this article is to shed light on the conditions under which the
funerary management of human remains was carried out by the French authorities
during the early years of the First World War. It seeks to understand how the
urgent need to clear the battlefield as quickly as possible came into conflict
with the aspiration to give all deceased an individualised, or at the very least
dignified, burial. Old military funerary practices were overturned and
reconfigured to incorporate an ideal that sought the individual identification
of citizen soldiers. The years 1914–15 were thus profoundly marked by a
clash between the pragmatism of public health authorities obsessed with hygiene,
the infancy of emerging forensic science, the aching desire of the nation to see
its children buried individually and various political and military imperatives
related to the conduct of the war.
The case of the management of the dead related to COVID-19
This article studies one of the humanitarian challenges caused by the COVID-19
crisis: the dignified handling of the mortal remains of individuals that have
died from COVID-19 in Muslim contexts. It illustrates the discussion with
examples from Sunni Muslim-majority states when relevant, such as Egypt, the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Pakistan, and examples from
English-speaking non-Muslim majority states such as the United Kingdom, the
United States of America, Canada and Australia as well as Sri Lanka. The article
finds that the case of the management of dead bodies of people who have died
from COVID-19 has shown that the creativity and flexibility enshrined in the
Islamic law-making logic and methodology, on the one hand, and the cooperation
between Muslim jurists and specialised medical and forensic experts, on the
other, have contributed to saving people’s lives and mitigating the
effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Muslim contexts.