Material Culture and Spaces of Remembrance. A Study of Cemeteries in Luxembourg in the Context of the Greater Region


CALL: 2014

DOMAIN: SC - Identities, Diversity and Interaction





HOST INSTITUTION: University of Luxembourg

KEYWORDS: materiality, social history, geography, cultural anthropology, cemetery, sepulchral culture, individualization, modernity, hypermodernity, interculturality

START: 2015-08-01

END: 2018-07-31


Submitted Abstract

This project seeks to examine the historical evolution of sepulchral culture from the early nineteenth century to the present, with an outlook towards the future usages of cemetery areas in Luxembourg. This study will focus on the spatiality and materiality of remembering the dead: the changing layout of graveyards and the emergence of alternative sites, new designs of tomb stones and tomb slabs, and changes and continuities in the practices of burial and grave tending. To examine the impact of materiality on social processes of individualisation, pluralisation, de- and resacralisation etc. (and vice versa), this project has a three-pronged approach: spatial analysis, history, and qualitative social research.A computer-aided spatial analysis comparing cemeteries in Luxembourg to those in the neighboring regions of Belgium, France and Germany – paying attention to their specific settings (rural, (sub)urban and (post)industrial) and the migration background of the population living and buried there – combined with semi-structured interviews conducted with approximately 10 grave tenders in each of the 30 cemeteries under investigation, will assess the specificities of and cross-cultural influences on Luxembourg´s sepulchral culture. This quantitative research will be complemented by historical and qualitative social research on burial regulations and practices in Luxembourg. The significant, but scarcely documented, recent changes in materially remembering the dead will be placed within a larger historical context, based on archival research and expert interviews with local cemetery administrations and representatives of the funeral business sector. The impact that both material constraints and institutional regulations (regarding cremation, green burial sites etc.) have on rapidly changing social norms and practices will be investigated through ethnographic interviews and participants’ observations of burial and grave tending in Luxembourg.This interdisciplinary study will provide an in-depth analysis of the social presence of the dead amongst the living, highlighting both commonalities and differences between countries and regions within Luxembourg, as well as those pertaining to the social milieus, migration histories and gender of the grave owners and caretakers. In analysing the current usage and changing significance of the cemetery, the project aims at developing new survey tools to be shared as open source, and at offering recommendations to urban and regional planners regarding the future development of cemetery areas.

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