Drawing on the ‘affective turn’ in the social sciences, this paper demonstrates the value of studying responses to death and loss in illuminating the role of the body and emotions in managing identities in contemporary societies. Looking across cultures at an experience that may threaten identity and continuity of being provides a broader, more complex and nuanced picture of social identity and participation in society. In focusing on societies with contrasting models of identity, it considers the implications of an emphasis on individualism in Britain and interdependency in Japan for rebuilding identity in each context. Drawing on qualitative interviews with British and Japanese mourners, the paper illustrates how continuing relationships with deceased loved ones were key to mourners’ attempts to repair shattered identities. In particular, it examines the affective nature of post-mortem relationships and the way mourners managed these through ‘affective practices’. In breaching the boundaries between the living and the dead, these practices revealed intersubjective, dynamic and shifting experiences of embodiment and identity that may be obscured by more dominant cultural scripts. As such, these experiences raise ontological and epistemological questions about how mourning and social being are theorised.
- Identity; affectivity; bereavement; post-mortem bonds; Britain; Japan