American Afterlives

Ghosts in the Commodity


  • Shannon Lee Dawdy University of Chicago



cremation, death, funerary practices, object agency, ontology, United States


In the United States, death practices have been undergoing a rapid transformation in the last 20 years. Moves towards creative, individualized observances are accompanied by new material practices. I deploy ethnographic examples of three entrepreneurs who make objects from cremated human remains. The entities discussed here cannot be comfortably called either human or non-human. They are both. And they are designed to facilitate on ongoing relationship with the dead. These new entities are not exactly commodities, although they may be produced through similar means. Embraced primarily by agnostics, they are not exactly religious relics, although they contain preserved parts of the human body. They come closest to being a personal fetish, or a radically material type of ghost.


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Author Biography

Shannon Lee Dawdy, University of Chicago

Shannon Lee Dawdy is the author of Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans (University of Chicago Press, 2008) and Patina: A Profane Archaeology (University of Chicago Press, 2016).


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How to Cite

Dawdy, S. L. (2020). American Afterlives: Ghosts in the Commodity. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 6(2), 206–223.



Research Article