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Sensing the deathscape: Digital media and death during COVID-19

Alexis-Martin, Becky (2020) Sensing the deathscape: Digital media and death during COVID-19. Journal of Environmental Media, 1 (2). 11.1-11.8. ISSN 2632-2463

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Across cultures, death has traditionally encompassed diverse material and ritual assemblages. Funeral practices are a unifying element of death, presenting an opportunity for communal memorialization of the deceased. These practices are environmentally embedded, spanning traditional graveyards and floral memorials, to contemporary green burials and body farms. However, COVID-19 has disrupted socio-environmental practices, due to disease transmission concerns that have manifested new constraints to funerary space. Here, I contemplate the digital deathscape during COVID-19 through three vignettes: the first considers Hart Island mass-burial drone footage and the emergence of a necropticon. The second vignette considers the emergence of domestic deathscapes and their significance to digitally broadcast (DB) funerals. The third vignette, Billy’s funeral, gives interview-based insights into the porous domestic deathscape of a DB funeral guest, Samantha. All three vignettes contemplate the experience of remotely sensing the deathscape and the scenarios that arise when traditionally hidden or ‘in-place’ death rituals arise ‘out-of-place’.

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