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Virtual Afterlives

Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century

Candi K. Cann

Publication Year: 2014

For millennia, the rituals of death and remembrance have been fixed by time and location, but in the twenty-first century, grieving has become a virtual phenomenon. Today, the dead live on through social media profiles, memorial websites, and saved voicemails that can be accessed at any time. This dramatic cultural shift has made the physical presence of death secondary to the psychological experience of mourning.

Virtual Afterlives investigates emerging popular bereavement traditions. Author Candi K. Cann examines new forms of grieving and evaluates how religion and the funeral industry have both contributed to mourning rituals despite their limited ability to remedy grief. As grieving traditions and locations shift, people are discovering new ways to memorialize their loved ones. Bodiless and spontaneous memorials like those at the sites of the shootings in Aurora and Newtown and the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as roadside memorials, car decals, and tattoos are contributing to a new bereavement language that crosses national boundaries and culture-specific perceptions of death.

Examining mourning practices in the United States in comparison to the broader background of practices in Asia and Latin America, Virtual Afterlives seeks to resituate death as a part of life and mourning as a unifying process that helps to create identities and narratives for communities. As technology changes the ways in which we experience death, this engaging study explores the culture of bereavement and the ways in which it, too, is being significantly transformed.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Material Worlds

Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I sent the initial project proposal for this book to the publisher the same day my brother collapsed and was taken to the hospital. He died less than forty-eight hours later, and I went to the funeral home to help make arrangements for his cremation on my way to the Columbia University Seminar on Death, where I presented the first draft of my chapter on Internet memorialization. ...

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pp. 1-16

The face of grieving in American culture has changed dramatically in the last two hundred years. Traditionally, there were established grieving rituals that one followed after a death—mourning was a liminal state in which one withdrew from society and could grieve the dead, and then return to social norms and expectations. ...

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1. The Bodiless Memorial: The Dis-location of the Body

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pp. 17-48

Recent years have seen an upsurge in spontaneous and grassroots memorialization1 and the rise of popular memorials for the dead: the Columbine shooting memorial, the memorial of Diana outside Kensington Palace, the Oklahoma bombing memorial, the Aurora, Colorado, shootout memorial, the World Trade Center memorial,2 ...

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2. Wearing the Dead

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pp. 49-80

The development of tattooing is one way to carry the dead around with us, while also making the status of the bereaved clearly evident to those around them. Tattooing is a visual marker that concretely indicates one’s status as bereaved to the community, by memorializing the dead through the inscribing of names, images, or even replicas of body parts ...

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3. Moving the Dead

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pp. 81-104

This chapter examines the role of place in remembering the dead. Shifting from memorials that one inscribes bodily, we study various other forms of moving shrines, specifically, car memorials and T-shirt remembrances. These nonpermanent memorials function as ways in which people can “carry the dead” with them, without fixing them in place permanently, as tattoos do. ...

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4. Speaking to the Dead: Social Network Sites and Public Grieving

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pp. 105-132

Virtual bereavement allows for marginal discourse to circumvent traditional modes of bereavement by reclaiming mourning and the ways we talk and think about the dead. The virtual realm returns us to our mourning through memorialization: through image and memory, without the messiness of the corpse. ...

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5. Grieving the Dead in Alternative Spaces

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pp. 133-146

From the dead body to the virtual body and from material memorials to virtual memorials, one thing is clear: the bodiless nature of memorialization of the dead across cultures. There is a move to replacing the body with something else in order to remember the dead. ...

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pp. 147-148

There are many people who helped see this project to its completion, and so I thank, in no particular order, everyone who supported and encouraged me in my research, ideas, and writing. First, I thank Ashley Runyon and all the editorial staff at the University Press of Kentucky for taking on this project. ...

Appendix A: Interview Questions for Tattoo Artists

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pp. 149-150

Appendix B: Interview Questions for Car-Decal Memorial Manufacturers

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pp. 151-152


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pp. 153-176


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pp. 177-190


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pp. 191-198

Series Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813145433
E-ISBN-10: 0813145430
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813145419

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Material Worlds
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OCLC Number: 880580305
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Virtual Afterlives

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Death -- Social aspects.
  • Memorialization -- Social aspects.
  • Bereavement -- Social aspects.
  • Internet -- Social aspects.
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