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Animating Relations: Digitally Mediated Intimacies between the Living and the Dead

By Molly Hales

Cite As:
Hales, Molly. 2019. “Animating Relations: Digitally Mediated Intimacies between the Living and the Dead.” Cultural Anthropology 34, no. 2: 187–212.


Recent theorizations of animation offer intriguing possibilities for recognizing and attending to the sociality of a range of entities, including the dead. Today, diverse digital media are being used to maintain and even deepen intimate relationships with deceased loved ones. These media bring the dead to presence through forms of animation, understood not only in the narrow technical sense as a media genre but more broadly as a mode of mediation that vivifies in particular ways. This mode of mediation is iterative, bringing forth the multiplicity of the dead. Their materializations are partial and fragmentary, cohering around a database of elements rather than a cohesive, narrative identity. They are sparsely outlined, evoked rather than depicted. When the dead are animated by digital media, they invite their loved ones to fill them, expanding into many versions to which shifting attachments can form. Those who answer their call extend their ambivalent hospitality, maintaining mutually constitutive relationships through which both the living and the dead are carried forth.


animation; relations with the dead; new media; mourning; mediation; database; haunting