Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
How does sound produce the possibility for a beautiful death? This paper ruminates on questions
of deathwork: the intersecting labors of sounding, tactility, performances of piety, and physical
care for Muslim deceased. It is based on over eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in
contemporary Turkish cities, coasts, and seas that began in 2016. My ethnography of deathwork
centrally emerges from my diverse experiences as a state-certified gassâle—a woman who
cleans, ritually washes (abdest or wudu), recites to, and shrouds deceased Muslim females. I
have laid dozens of deceased infants, girls, and women to rest with my body, ears, and voice.
This talk interrogates my work with both Sunni and Shia rituals monitored by the Turkish state,
as well as my labors in liminal coastal regions to bring refugee deceased out of the seas and
conduct the necessary deathwork before their burial in newly-created Turkish cemeteries.
Drawing on my broader ethnographic project on critical listening and the craft of Muslim
deathwork, this talk explores the ethical and political edges of what I call posthumous
aurality—the knowledge that the dead can hear. Rethinking normative anthropological
approaches to the thresholds of death and dying, what is at stake in this paper is a new
methodology for listening beyond the end of life, and a theorization of how the deceased live on
in the sense experiences of deathworkers.