The role of body disposition in making sense of life and death

Courtney Nations Baker, Stacey Menzel Baker, James W. Gentry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


Upon the loss of a loved one, individual and social sentiments often focus toward the body, ritual ceremonies may revolve around the body and decision making related to death-care consumption is affected by biological aspects of the body. Beyond making logistical decisions about the remains, bereaved loved ones must also somehow make sense of what it means to no longer have the physical presence of the deceased as part of their lives. Even after death, the body of the deceased passively experiences many additional sentiments. People touch it, talk to it, dress it, style it, display it, carry it, honour it and use symbolic items to represent it. Despite its passive contribution toward the observances, the body of the deceased often becomes the centerpiece of attention. The bereaved must make pragmatic decisions about how to handle the physical remains. This has both practical and emotional aspects. Practically, the decomposition process begins rapidly, and a reality of death is that the body cannot be maintained permanently. Emotionally, the disposition may be imbued with meanings somehow related to the deceased individual. Whether practical or emotional, decisions about body disposition affect how those impacted by the death make sense of life and death. The present research seeks to understand how individuals make sense of life and death in the context of disposition of the physical body. The chapter first reviews relevant literature on disposition and liminality. Next, the study context and methods are described. After we present four emergent themes from the data, we conclude with a discussion on the theoretical and practical implications of sense-making in the context of body disposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDeath in a Consumer Culture
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781317536192
ISBN (Print)9781138848191
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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