Daniel Robins on Necro-Waste
I am just approaching the end of my first year as a Sociology PhD student here at York. I have two fantastic supervisors: Ruth Penfold-Mounce and David Beer, whom I have been working closely with to develop my project on necro-waste. I did not start with the concept; it just found me about two months in. It affirmed to me that a PhD is always in progress, always amenable to change.
My research focuses on this idea of necro-waste, which is essentially the analogy of corpse parts as waste. By drawing on theories of value, I am exploring the value attached to and generated out of necro-waste as it passes through the UK Death Industry. It’s highlighted at three stages. The first of these is the gatekeeping stage. This is where the necro-waste is prepared for disposal by the funeral director. Two methods of disposal are then explored; disposal through cremation and disposal through natural burial. This is because these produce two different types of waste; dry waste and wet waste. Each of these offers the opportunity for the necro-waste to be commemorated. As such, the third stage focuses on the artists that reuse cremated remains in these commemorative rituals. This stage also explores what becomes of the natural burial ground.
In the background, I have also been writing through some ideas. I recently published a piece for Discover Society, where I conceptualise Ian Brady’s remains as akin to radioactive waste, otherwise known as ‘toxic necro-waste’. The SATSU department here at York also provides PhD students with a lot of opportunities. I was able to extend these thoughts and write them on the SATSU Threshold blog. Each of these encouraged me to write an article on the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, where I discuss toxic necro-waste further. I understand it as a concept that can be used to further extend the study of necro-waste.
Writing these has helped me as a PhD student in a couple of ways. First, as the PhD is always in progress, it’s helped me to develop some of the ideas in my thesis. Second, it’s provided content, along with my research, to discuss at conferences through both talks and networking with fellow death researchers. Last, it's helped build my confidence as an academic and develop my writing.
I am trying to treat my PhD as an apprenticeship and am actively seeking as many opportunities as I can. I am on the board of studies, and am working with other Sociology PhD students to develop this year’s York Sociology Postgraduate Conference on ‘embodiment’. I also teach two seminar classes on the first year undergraduate module ‘Introducing Social Psychology’, which I really enjoy. So, it’s been a busy, but excellent year.