Disposal or dispersal? Environmentalism and final treatment of the British dead

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In current environmental discourse, disposal does not remove and destroy waste but rather transforms it into something useful or harmful and/or re-locates it. This article shows how this operates when the ‘waste’ comprises human remains, specifically how innovative ‘dispersal’ practices are now challenging the ‘disposal’ discourse of nineteenth-century burial and twentieth-century cremation which contained the dead within special death spaces separated from everyday environments for living. Since the 1990s, disposal practices have been supplemented by practices with an entirely different rationale. Instead of containing the dead in safe, out of the way places, new practices disperse human remains back into environments that sustain the living, whether this be via natural burial, new cremation practices or new technologies currently being developed, namely alkaline hydrolysis and freeze-drying. Promoters of all these innovations appeal to ecological usefulness, blurring the boundary between the living and the dead, thereby positioning the dead body as a gift to the living and/or to the planet. Thus, a new ecological mentality is increasingly framing the management of all the dead – not just those interred in natural burial grounds. In the light of this, we reconsider land use policy, and question death studies’ use of the term ‘disposal’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-260
Number of pages18
Issue number3
Early online date28 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2014


  • cremation
  • ecology
  • gift
  • natural burial
  • promession
  • Resomation
  • sequestration


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