Death "on the move": Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa

Lee, Rebekah. 2011. Death "on the move": Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa. Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, 81(2), pp. 226-47. ISSN 0001-9720 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article primarily concerns the intersection of the changing management of death with the problems and possibilities presented by the growing mobility of the African, and specifically Xhosa-speaking, population in South Africa from the latter half of the twentieth century to the present day. I am interested in how shifts in the practices and beliefs around death are mediated by individuals, households and businesses who have an historical affinity towards movement, particularly across what has been called the ‘rural–urban nexus’. In what ways has this more mobile orientation influenced the perception of rites and responsibilities surrounding death? And how have more mobile ‘ways of dying’ in turn created new subjectivities and new ways in which to imagine relations between the living and the dead? I argue that African funeral directors based in Cape Town and the rural areas of the Eastern Cape – a steadily more numerous and prominent group of entrepreneurs – are well-placed to shape these processes, through their role as cultural mediators and technological innovators, and their particular emphasis on maintaining a flow of bodies (both dead and alive) between rural and urban areas. I focus on two aspects of contemporary South African funerals – embalming and exhumations – that are suggestive of how the migration dynamic, and the continuing demands from mobile mourners for innovations via the funeral industry, have encouraged new perceptions of and relations to the dead body.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Research Office > REF2014



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Date Deposited:

05 Mar 2012 12:54

Last Modified:

27 Jun 2017 10:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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