Dr Sébastien Penmellen Boret

Contact: sebastien.boret@anthro.ox.ac.uk

Sébastien Boret holds an M.Phil. in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford (2003-05) and a PhD in Anthropology from Oxford Brookes University (2005-11). He was a post-doctoral fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2012-14) and is currently Assistant Professor at the International Research Insitute of Disaster Science, Tohoku University, Japan.

Research Interests and Projects

The Anthropology of Death

His first book Japanese Tree Burial: Kinship, Ecology and the Culture of Death (Routledge 2014) explores the phenomenon of tree burial by tracing its development and ecological advocacy as well as the socio-cultural conditions that motivate Japanese people to choose this practice. Unwrapping its symbiosis of memorialization and environmentalism, the book demonstrates how tree burial fits with new ideas of ecology where the individual’s corporality nourishes the earth and re-enters the cycle of life in nature. Conversely, this ethnography contributes to our understanding of graveyards as not only places for the containment and the memorialisation of the dead, but spaces where people (re)construct, challenge, and find new senses of belonging to the wider society in which they live.

Sébastien’s second book is a co-edited volume with Susan O. Long and Sergei Kan on Authority, Innovation and Mortuary Rites: The Anthropology of Death in the Early Twenty-first Century (forthcoming). Based on the contributions of eleven scholars this book examines innovative and enduring ideas and practices of death, which endorse changing patterns of social relationships, memorialization and the afterlife, drawing from the lived experiences of men and women within societies of Africa, North and South America, Europe, and East Asia. Beyond the confines of its empirical and theoretical endeavor, this book provides a multifaceted and resourceful window onto the anthropology of death, stimulating inquisitiveness about human responses to this one universal certainty in life, our mortality.

Remembering Disasters: The Politics of Death, Grief and Memory

This project aims to study the processes of memorializing the tragic event and its victims through tangible (memorial monuments) and intangible (ceremonies) acts of remembrance. My two field sites are located on the coastline of northern Japan annihilated by the 2011 Great East Japan Tsunami and, since 2014, the region of Aceh hit by the 2004 Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami. Looking beyond the disaster specifics of Japan and Indonesia, this project is a reflection on the politics of death in the (re)construction of memory, religion and nationhood in contemporary society. The outcome of this project will be several articles on the role, practice and politics of memory and a book on the ‘Globalisation of Disaster Memorialisation’.

In addition to his academic endeavour, Sébastien’s research activities aim at contributing to the applied field of disaster mitigation. He has developed a particular interest in assisting local governments, community leaders and international organisation in dealing with the disposal of the dead and the management of grief occurring during the aftermath. He has contributed to the organisation of the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and is the co-leader of the Digital Archives of Tsunami in Aceh (DATA), Indonesia.

For more information: rememberingdisasters.com

Publications

BOOKS

(in preparation) The Anthropology of Death in the Early Twenty-First Century: Ritual, authority and memory, co-edited with Susan Long, New York: Palgrave MacMillan. (Book proposal approved, manuscript due August 2015)

2014. Japanese Tree Burials: Kinship, Ecology and the Culture of Death, London: Routledge.

CHAPTERS AND ARTICLES

(Forthcoming) ‘People’s Own Grave, People’s Own Life: Identity, agency and memorialisation in Japan’, In Boret Penmellen, S. and Long, S. (eds) The Anthropology of Death in the Early Twenty-First Century: Ritual, authority and memory, New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

(In press) 樹木葬と散骨、家族の辞典、比較家族史学会 (Tree-Burial and Ash Scattering in the UK and Japan, The Dictionary of the Family) Tokyo: The Society for Comparative Family History.

2012. An Anthropological Study of a Japanese Tree Burial: Kinship, Identity and Death. In Suzuki, H. (ed.) Death and Dying in Contemporary Japan: Shifting Social Structures and Values. London: Routledge.   

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