Boas Seminar 12/06: Dr. LaShaya Howie
Dr. LaShaya Howie (she/her) is a postdoctoral research scholar and lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University. She received her PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago where she also held a fellowship at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Ford Foundation. Dr. Howie also holds an MA in Social Cultural Analysis from NYU concentrating in Africana Studies and Museum Studies. Her current book project is tentatively titled Death Work: Black Funeral Practices in the United States.
Seminar Abstract: Despite the near uniformity in commercial death practices, funeral service remains one of the most racially segregated sectors of the United States economy. As such, Black funeral directors who work in Black-owned funeral homes almost exclusively work with Black individuals and families when a death occurs. These professionals help manage posthumous bureaucratic needs, conduct funeral services, and care for the bodies of the deceased. Primarily ethnographically rooted in Chicago funeral homes, I argue that funeral professionals cultivate and articulate particular modes of expertise for tending to Black people when we die and as we grieve. This talk focuses on the cornerstone of their craft—preparing the body for open-casket services. Not quite the decedent but not merely a corpse, I position the body as the central object-subject in funeral service. I trace notions of propriety, beauty, style, and wholeness as the high stakes of presentation are negotiated between and among funeral professionals and loved ones of the deceased. This talk takes death not as the end, but as the analytical entry point to interrogate the intersection of care and the body (living and dead) in contemporary Black funeral practices in the United States.
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