Design, reinforced by research, reveals an urgent call to liberate city life from the burden of outmoded practices. A community’s need for sanitary and sensible disposal of corpses is intertwined with the need of survivors to organize suitable rituals and memorialize the deceased.

DeathLab’s body of research includes critical theoretical spatial propositions, data projections, scientific inquiry, and aims to develop ways to reduce the adverse impacts of our living years on the environment.

Urban Spatial Limitations

Science of Human Body

Funeral Processes

Cultural Views

Additional Resources

DeathLab aims to create solutions for ecologically sensible disposals of human remains that are culturally acceptable and meet the needs of families and communities to memorialize their dead. This brief bibliography offers examples of works, which can be useful in understanding how we as individuals and societies manage the loss of those who were once part of our community.

Cultural Constructions of Mourning

Since the cultural construction of mourning is closely tied to and dependent on the cultural construction of death, influential sources that address different perspectives and concepts of death are also included in this section.

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Ariès, Philippe. The Hour of Our Death. Translation by Helen Weaver. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. Originally published as L’homme devant la mort. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1977.

In this overview of how individuals and society have approached death and bereavement during different periods in the history of Western Civilization from ancient times to the 1970s, Ariès presents literary, liturgical, testamentary, epigraphic, and iconographic documentation to categorize Western death cultures as “Tame Death,” “Death of the Self,” “Death of the Other,” and “Invisible Death.”

Ashenburg, Katherine. The Mourner’s Dance. New York: North Point Press, 2002.

In this easily accessible book, the author links her own and her daughter’s personal grief experiences and needs with ancient traditions and folk wisdom, arguing that grief offers a collective human connection among cultures and over time.

Borkenau, Frank. “The Concept of Death,” originally in The Twentieth Century, April 1955, reprinted in Robert Lester Fulton,ed. Death and Identity, John Whiley & Co, New York, 1965 (42-56).

Employing a comprehensive historical perspective, Borkenau classified different civilizations as predominantly “death denying,” “death defying,” “death accepting,” or “death transcending.” Concerned that modern Western society might increasingly turn to death denial as its primary coping mechanism, he placed his hope in psychoanalysis and science, believing that these disciplines might succeed in making the immortal “personality” more intelligible and restore the balance between death denial and death acceptance in the West. Contrasting the presentation of Borkenau’s concepts of death with the four essays under the rubric of Perspectives on Death in the third edition of Death and Identity (eds. Robert Lester Fulton and Robert Bendikson, 1994) is instructive of how the methods we use – and how we formulate and think about the idea of death - change over time. See also Bregman Volume 1, chapters 5-11.


Bregman, Lucy, ed. Religion Death, and Dying. Volume 1 – Perspectives on Dying and Death. Santa Barbara CA: Praeger an Imprint of ABC-CLIO, 2010.

Chapters 5 thorugh 11 of this volume address the idea of death from the perspective of different world religions in short managable essays.

Doss, Erika. The Emotional Life of Contemporary Public Memorials: Towards a Theory of Temporary Memorials. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press, 2008.

In this study of the explosion of public memorials in the 21st century, many of them ephemeral on the site of tragic and traumatic events, Doss considers how grief is mediated in contemporary European and American society. She theorizes that these new manifestations of grief are the physical embodiment of new meanings and understanding of death in our contemporary historical and social context.

Doss, Erika. Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. Chicago: Paperback Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2010.

In this volume related in its theories to her 2008 book, Doss argues that American memorials “underscore our obsession with issues of memory and history, and the urgent desire to express—and claim—those issues in visibly public contexts.”

Feifel, Herman, ed. The Meaning of Death. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

This anthology was groundbreaking in its attention to death from the perspective of different disciplines at a time when the topic was largely taboo. Herman Feifel, a psychologist and death study pioneer, sounded an alarm about society’s and individuals’ ingrained tendency to avert their eyes from matters of mortality. Many of the philosophers, religionists, and scientists writing for his volume were concerned with our science-conscious culture not being able to “furnish us with all the necessary parameters for investigating and understanding death.” Feifel saw “a pressing need for more reliable and systematic, controlled study in the field” xv–xvi). Chapters of relevance to the construction of mourning include David C. Mandelbaum “Social Uses of Funeral Rites,” which discusses funeral rituals among several non-western groups from the perspective of a cultural anthropologist (189-217); Edgar N. Jackson, “Grief and Religion,” which proposes that the role of religion – its dogma and rituals - is to bring “essence and existence into working unity” (232) and thus help the grieving person to find meaning in a continuing life and to legitimize the practice of – and need for – grieving (218-233). Herman Feifel “Introduction” (xi-xvi) and Gardiner Murphy “Discussion” (317-340) provide summaries of the contributions and give a sense for the “meaning of death” in America in the mid-twentieth century.

Feifel, Herman, ed. New Meanings of Death. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977.

Two decades after publishing his first volume, Feifel laid out the issues that focused the debate on death in the 1970s in his second anthology New Meanings of Death (1977). He noticed that “surface considerations of death . . . have become more lively,” although “Americans still approach dying and death warily and gingerly (4).” Feifel suggested that death had changed from traditionally being “a door” to “becoming a wall” (4). Among chapters relevant to the construction of mourning from the perspctive of the individual, is Robert J. Lifton “The Sense of Immortality: On Death and the Continuity of Life (274-290).”Using a psychonalytical approach he addresses among other concepts the idea of “symbolic immortality.”

Gennep, Arnold van. The Rites of Passage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960. Reprinted 2004. (Originally published as Rites de Passage, 1909; translated by M. B. Vizedom and G. L. Caffe.)

This ethnograhic study of rites of passages is -- along with Rober Hertz’s Death and the Right Hand – seminal and typical of early anthropological studies in that it describes, with minor references to Catholic rites, only practices among non-Western groups. It is influential in its argument that ritualization occurs in three stages – before, during, and after the critical event – be it birth, marriage, or death. One chapter reviews the purpose of funerals (146-165).

Gorer, Geoffrey. Death, Grief and Mourning. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday–Anchor Books, 1965.

First published in the UK in 1955, this book contains the famous statements about death being as taboo in the mid-twentieth century as pornography in the 19th. The 1965 volume includes a new introduction pertaining to the United States.

Hertz, Robert. Death and the Right Hand. New York: Routledge, 2006. (Originally published in French as Contribution à une étude sur la représentation collective de la mort, Annale Sociologique, 10, 1907, 48-137; translated by Rodney and Claudia Needham and first published, London: Cohen and West, 1960.)

Hertz’ lasting contribution to the study of death and mourning is his socilogical and anthropoligical perspective that takes as its starting point the collective representations – constructions - of the group (as contrasted with the individual) – and the embodiment of emotions in interaction with society.

Irish, Donald P., Kathleen F. Lundquist and Vivian J. Nelsen eds. Ethnic Variations in Dying, Death and Grief – Diversity in Universality. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis, 1993.

This anthology addresses differences in practices and traditions among American groups, including some that are not always featured (Hmong, Quakers and Unitarians), and importantly acknowledges the variations created by role of cross-cultural and personal perspectives.

Johnson, Christopher Jay and Marsha G. McGee, eds. How Different Religions View Death and the Afterlife. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Charles Press, 1998.

In this volume, Johnson, a psychotherapist and bereavement counselor, and McGee a death educator and pastoral counselor, have compiled chapters by different scholars, summarizing the basic tenets of 19 religious groups about death and the afterlife.

Kastenbaum, Robert J. Death, Society, and Human Experience. New York: Pearson, 2011, 11th edition.

A textbook in thanatolgy, this volume covers a range of topics from an academic perspective.

Seale, Clive. Constructing Death: The Sociology of Dying and Bereavement. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1998.

This book follows in the footsteps of Hertz, and bring the literature up to date since the 1960 translation of Hertz’ Death and the Right Hand.

Taylor, Mark C. and Dietrich Christian Lammerts. Grave Matters. London: Reaktion Books, 2002.

Taylor’s essay interweaves personal narrative, historical analysis, cultural commentary and philosophical reflection. Followed by Lammerts’s photographs of the graves of the artists, architects, writers, philosophers and musicians who shaped Western culture, it suggests an alternative history of modernism and difficult questions are raised: What place do the modern greats have in the postmodern age? Who decided where and how they would be buried? Who wrote their epitaphs? What do their deaths, and their graves, tell us about their lives and suggest about our own?

Toynbee, Arnold J. Man’s Concern with Death. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1968.

A major overview of all aspects of death in different cultures from the perspective of its time period.

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Processes of Grieving 

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Balk, David and Charles Corr. Adolescent Encounters With Death, Bereavement and Coping. New York: Springer Publishing, 2009.

This volume covers a range of topics from, primarily, the perspective of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers.

Bonnano, George A. The Other Side of Sadness – What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss. New York: Basic Books, 2009.

Bonanno’s work refutes Kübler-Ross’ and Freud’s theories of grief, arguing that resilience is the most common and natural reaction to loss and trauma, and that grief and trauma therapies are overused and not necessarily helpful.

Christ, Grace Hyslop. Healing Children’s Grief – Surviving a Parent’s Death from Cancer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Containing narratives, recommendations, and discussions of clinical cases, Christ’s work shows how children of different developmental levels – ages 3 to 17 – experience the loss of a parent.

Derrida, Jacques. The Work of Mourning, edited by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001.

A collection of letters of condolence, memorial essays, and eulogies, written by the philosopher after the death of each of fourteen of his friends - other French, cultural luminaries - this volume sheds light on Derrida’s views on ethics, “the gift of death,” memory, and time through the lens of grieving personal friendships.

Doka, Kenneth. Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 1989.

A prolific writer on death and dying, Doka here elaborates on a term he coined, disenfranchised grief.

Freud, Sigmund. "Mourning and Melancholia." The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14. London: The Hogarth Press, 1953, 237-258.

A basic psychoanalytical text that is frequently referenced as a starting point of grief studies pertaining to the individual.

Fulton, Robert Lester and Robert Bendiksen, eds. Death and Identity. Philadelphia: The Charles press, 1994.

This collection contains reprints and a few original articles on grief and mourning, mostly from a sociological perspective. Part 2 – Grief and the Process of Mourning have a chapter on the psychological impact on bereaved children (John Bowlby, “The Mourning of Children,” 110-135); an analysis of the distinction – and necessary reconciliation – between the psychological and personal experience of grief and the social experience of mourning that takes place within a certain socio-cultural context (John Stephenson, “Grief and Mourning,” 136-176); and an argument for the notion that the loss of a close partner is innate (Wolfgang Stroebe and Margaret S. Stroebe, “Is Grief Universal? Cultural Variations in the Emotional Reaction to Loss,” 177-209).

Gilbert, Sandra M. Death’s Door – Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.

A critic, poet, and memoirist Sandra M. Gilbert explores our relationship to death though literature, history, poetry, and societal practices. The questions she attempts to address include: How has the notion of death and our experiences and expressions of grief changed in the last century? Did the traumas of Hiroshima and the Holocaust transform our thinking about mortality? More recently, did the catastrophe of 9/11 alter our modes of mourning? And are there at the same time aspects of grief that barely change from age to age? She examines both the changelessness of grief and the changing customs that mark contemporary mourning.

Gorer, Geoffrey. Death, Grief, and Mourning in Contemporary Britain. Garden City, New York: Doubleday-Anchor, 1967.

Goss, Robert E. and Dennis E. Klass. Dead But Not Lost, Grief Narratives in Religious Traditions. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 2005.

Using mostly non-Western traditions of bonding practices between the dead and the living, the authors argue that contemporary therapists and counselors should also be mindful of the importance of the unsevered connections between the dead and the bereaved.

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Collier Books, 1969.

Considered the seminal work in the literature on death and dying in contemporary times, Kübler-Ross’s work postulates that dying and grieving people go through a series of consecutive stages —denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her theory has since been refuted and refined but the book remains in the canon of thanatological books.

Lattanzi-Licht, Marcia and Kenneth J. Doka, eds. Living with Grief: Coping with Public Tragedy. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2003.

This anthology brings together chapters illuminating specific aspects and perspectives of grief by a range of bereavement counselors and experts who have been involved in helping people during and after public tragedies.

Lifton, Robert Jay. The Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Lifton’s primary research topics center on the the impact on all parties in war and conflict, including notable work on brainwashing and holocaust survivors. A post-Freudian psychiatrist, he expounds in The Broken on the human death awareness and its function in shaping the psyche. The writing reflects the period of publication before the end of the cold war.

Neimeyer, Robert A., Darcy L. Harris, Howard R. Winokuer, and Gordon F. Thornton, eds. Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society: Bridging Research and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2011.

This series features several books annually that are primarily geared to grief counselors – guiding them in the process of bridging recent research and practice. Some of these works are also useful for the non-practitioner who attempts to understand how the process of grieving in the context of professional therapy is understood by contemporary scholars and clinicians. For a listing of recent and forthcoming volumes, including a brief synopsis of each book, CLICK HERE


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Mourning Rituals and Disposal Practices

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Bregman, Lucy, ed. Religion, Death, and Dying – Volume 3: Bereavement and Death Rituals. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Perspectives, 2010.

Carson, Denise. Parting Ways: New Rituals and Celebrations of Life’s Passing. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

Crouch, Mira. “Last Matters: The Latent Meanings of Contemporary Funeral Rites.” In Making Sense of Dying and Death, edited by A. Fagan, 125–40. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.

Cullen, Lisa Takeuchi. Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

DasGupta, Sayantani, and Marsha Hurst. “Death in Cyberspace: Bodies, Boundaries, and Postmodern Memorializing.” In The Many Ways We Talk About Death in Contemporary Society, edited by Margaret Souza and Christina Staudt. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009, 105–20.

Harris, Mark. Grave Matters: a Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial. New York: Scribner, 2007.

Laderman, Gary. Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Mitford, Jessica. The American Way of Death Revisited. New York: First Vintage Books, 2000.

Staudt, Christina and J. Harold Ellens, eds. Our Changing Journey to the End: Reshaping Death, Dying, and Grief in America – Volume 1: New Paths of Engagement. Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO Praeger Imprint, 2013.

The following chapters address new forms of memorials and rituals: Chapter 10. “Expansion of New Rituals for the Dying and Bereaved” by Sherry R. Schachter and Kristen M. Finneran; Chapter 11. Virtual Memorials: Bereavement and the Internet by Candi K. Cann; Chapter 12. “Strange Eternity: Virtual Memorials, Grief, and Entertainment” by Angela Riechers; Chapter 13. “Roadside Memorials: A 21st-Century Development” by George E. Dickinson and Heath C. Hoffmann; Chapter 14. “Reconfiguring Urban Spaces of Disposal, Sanctuary, and Remembrance” by Karla Maria Rothstein.

Winner, Lauren F. “From Black Crepe to Blue Ink: Mourning Tattoos and the Practice of Embodied Bereavement.” In The Many Ways We Talk About Death in Contemporary Society, edited by Margaret Souza and Christina Staudt, 135–48. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009.

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