The funeral : the management of death and its rituals in a Northern industrial city
This thesis explores the contemporary management of death in an urban setting. It provides a long overdue empirical re-appraisal of the way in which groups within society process the dead and continue to surround death with rituals. In particular, it addresses itself to a totally neglected area within British sociology, since the last major work, Geoffrey Gorer's Death Grief and Mourning in Contemporary Britain, appeared in 1965. Researcher presence a few hours after death had occurred and participant observation and interviews throughout the subsequent actions of the bereaved, funeral directors, clergy and others within the death system, illuminated the production of ritual from a number of different standpoints. This has thrown into relief, the ordinary 'common' or 'folk religious' understandings by which actors make sense of the trauma, as well as the official interests and constraints. There was substantial recourse to secondary data in occupational journals to cross check themes and inferences. The work takes account of the main theoretical perspectives within the literature which concentrate upon a perception of death as a 'taboo' subject, suggesting that modern society 'fears' or 'denies' it and that it has became 'dirty', 'medicalised' and 'invisible'. The thesis concludes that groups within the death system promulgate a number of differing orientations towards death so that it has been 'decontextualised' rather than denied and that there is 'ignorance' rather than 'fear'. There was an increasing trend towards the personalisation of ritual by the bereaved. This study contributes to the sociological understanding of funeral directors and clergy as occupational groups. It also goes beyond the narrowly economic critiques and surveys to reveal the nature of the relationships and work routines underlying the production of funeral ritual in the city. The information has important implications for decision makers within many areas of death and bereavement, particularly in the light of the recent Office of Fair Trading Survey (1989) which suggests that government intervention may be necessary within the Funeral Industry in order to achieve a better standard of service for the bereaved.