Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Insta-Dead: the Rhetoric of the Online human remains trade

Bad taste art
Huffer, D. and Graham, S., 2017.  The Insta-Dead: the rhetoric of the human remains trade on Instagram, Internet Archaeology 45.

There is a thriving trade, and collector community, around human remains that is facilitated by posts on new social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Etsy, and, until recently, eBay. In this article, we examine several thousand Instagram posts and perform some initial text analysis on the language and rhetoric of these posts to understand something about the function of this community, what they value and how they trade, buy, and sell, human remains. Our results indicate a well-connected network of collectors and dealers both specialist and generalist, with a surprisingly wide-reaching impact on the 'enthusiasts' who, through their rhetoric, support the activities of this collecting community, in the face of legal and ethical issues generated by its existence.
Like the private collection of dugup antiquities:
"The amassing of human remains by private collectors of sufficient means is itself a modern microcosm of the ethical stance and practice of many American and European museums in the late 19th-early 20th centuries (see Redman 2016 for a comprehensive review). In the same way that those early collecting practices did damage and violence to communities from which the dead were collected, the emergence of social media platforms that facilitate collector communities seems to be re-playing that history. Not all of this collecting is necessarily illegal, but it is important to understand what is happening, where it is happening, and how these human remains are framed as collectable objects so that archaeologists, cultural heritage professionals, museums and so on are better equipped to engage with this desire and to channel it productively.
Hmmm, channelling the private collection of human remains 'productively' seems an odd idea. A bit like trying to make a silk purse out of the collection-driven destruction of archaeological context.

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