Research seminar in Cultural Anthropology with Rebekah Lee: Encounters and conversions: Historicizing cultures of death in South Africa
- Date: –12:00
- Location: Zoom
- Lecturer: Rebekah Lee; African Studies Centre, University of Oxford
- Organiser: Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology
- Contact person: Mats Utas
Encounters and conversions: Historicizing cultures of death in South Africa
During apartheid (1948-94), it was widely acknowledged that funerals in South Africa served as platforms for popular political mobilization, while the rapid commercialization of African mortuary rites in the post-apartheid period has sparked contentious debates over the escalating ‘price’ of death in a time of AIDS.
This paper seeks to contextualize these and other more recent developments against the long durée of (largely western) observations of African practices and beliefs around death and the dying process. The paper provides a broad chronology of change in southern African funerary and mourning practices, and attempts to historicize the large corpus of ethnographic and historical material on African approaches to death, including anthropological and missionary sources from the early 19th century onwards. A secondary focus is to chart the growth and development of a ‘funeral economy’ from the early 20th century to the present day, beginning with the formation of burial societies in the mining communities of the Rand and concluding with the proliferation of funeral finance mechanisms (and the interventions of diverse agents including township funeral entrepreneurs and corporate life insurance companies) in the transitional and post-apartheid periods. This research is drawn from a larger book project entitled Death and Memory in Modern South Africa.
Interested in participating contact Mats Utas for Zoom link.
Rebekah Lee is Associate Professor in African Studies at the University of Oxford. Her research concerns the social and cultural history of modern South Africa, and latterly more broadly the history of health and medicine in sub-Saharan Africa. Her work explores the productive interface of history with other disciplinary traditions, most prominently anthropology but also the fields of urban studies, development studies, human geography and public health. Rebekah has published on gender, migration, urbanisation, religion, health and the family, including the books Health, Healing and Illness in African History (2021) and African Women and Apartheid: Migration and Settlement in Urban South Africa (2009). She is Editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies and a Council member of the Royal Historical Society. In 2013 she received the Richard Werbner Prize for Visual Ethnography from the Royal Anthropological Institute for her documentary film, ‘The Price of Death’ (2012).