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Post-mortal mobility: New perspectives on place attachment

Research project "The mobility of the dead", is a research project that aims at contribution to the theoretical discussion regarding humans attachments to places.

In studies on human mobility, the focus has been set on human actions when they are alive. There is naturally nothing strange about this, but humans do not cease to be mobile just they happen to die. The mobility flows of the dead, or post-mortal mobility flows, often target places of impotrance of the deseased individual when he/she were alive. Knowledge of factors influenceing post-mortal mobility can contribute to existing knowledge regarding important places for humans, something that cannot be done if we only study humans when they are alive.

Head of project

Roger Marjavaara
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2013-01-01 2015-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Faculty of Social Sciences

Research area

Human geography

Project description

Human mobility as a phenomenon forms a central part of contemporary human geography. Sub-disciplines like population geography, economic geography, transport geography, urban geography and tourism geography all deal with human mobility on different geographical scales, of different purposes and durations. Today, we move around the globe as the time and cost of moving has been dramatically reduced (Hall, 2005), leading to an extension of individuals’ geographical reach. However, the focus on mobility research has been on actions made by humans’ when they are alive. There is naturally nothing strange about this. Still, empirical observations indicate that individuals do not cease to be mobile just because they have died. Today, technical improvements, alongside cost reduction, have made it possible for long-haul transportation of deceased individuals, meaning that for many a final trip has yet to be made and at times it is made over long distances. As shown by Marjavaara (2012), the mobility of the dead, or post-mortal mobility, is not a marginal phenomenon in Sweden, at least compared to other types of permanent mobility. Some 22% of the dead are buried in another parish than the place of permanent residence at the time of death. This is to be compared to the permanent migration among the living, which is annually some 14%, meaning that the dead are more mobile than the living, of course with the help of others. Hence, many people in present-day society are affected by this type of mobility and its consequences, meaning that this topic is worthy of further investigation. From a scientific point of view, post-mortal mobility is interesting to study because it represents the continuing of human mobility to a place of great significance for the individual or his/her survivors (Rowles and Comeaux, 1986; 1987), giving new insights to individuals’ attachment to certain places. The attachment expressed by individuals’ post-mortal mobility is relatively unrestricted in comparison to individual restrictions posed upon living humans and these mobility patterns are not revealed if we only limit our study to living individuals. Further, post-mortal mobility monitors a revealed place attachment, rather than many other studies which focuses on a stated place attachment.

The aim of this study is to highlight the issue of post-mortal mobility in terms of the individual importance of the chosen place of final rest. This will be done in relation to religious and ethnical backgrounds and pervious mobility biography. Specific research questions addressed are: 1. What factors are important and influence people’s decision regarding the final place of rest? 2. How do different religious, ethnic and mobility history aspects affect post-mortal mobility? 3. Who decides where the deceased is to get buried? 4. How important is a specific place of final rest for individuals 5. What is the magnitude and rationale behind the international post-mortal mobility flows to/from Sweden?

Key words: mobility, place attachment, migration, burials, death, Sweden
Latest update: 2018-06-20