Graves and Identity

Social identity is an odd thing.  I could get into the details of how fluid a thing it is, but instead I would like to address a specific aspect of identity: social status.  In the tradition of social anthropology, there are two distinct types of social statuses—ascribed and achieved.  An ascribed status is one we are born with: race, ethnicity, and gender are some examples of such (this is a generalized statement, when decolonizing anthropology, ascribed statuses are NOT an essential part of a person’s identity).  An achieved status is precisely as it sounds, the sort of status that can be achieved during one’s lifetime: doctor, high school graduate, dog-owner.

From looking at the data collected from the Calvary Cemetery in Seattle, there are some very interesting things to note about the titles granted to the deceased after their death.  Women, buried in this particular cemetery, are far more likely to be identified with ascribed statuses: sister, daughter.  There is a fair share of achieved statuses as well, but many of them are mother and wife; domestic-based titles that pair their identity with other people, particularly with a male in their lives.  Men’s titles, while not all achieved (there’s a fair amount of brothers and fathers), the larger percentage are identified as doctors or with military ranks.  Their identities are independent of anyone else (and certainly not dependent on a woman to create their identities).

All of these are identities that were chosen for the deceased by those who were left behind, generally grave markers are chosen for a person after they have already died.  Nearly all of them, even the achieved statuses like doctor and military ranks, while perhaps not dependent on other people, are about relationships, especially with those who are left behind.

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