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Title: Deathwork : a sociological analysis of funeral directing
Author: Smale, Bernard
ISNI:       0000 0001 3417 3100
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 1985
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Funeral directing is a service occupation seeking to sell skills for income. Directors offer to act as caretaker of the dead and to construct a fitting disposal ceremony - the funeral ritual. This is a most significant symbolic act, yet little is known about the people into whose care the duty is entrusted. Their services are almost universally employed and they perform their most important activities in full public view, yet their work-routines, attitudes and aims are a matter for conjecture. No sociological study of the occupation has been undertaken in the United Kingdom. This research investigates both proprietors and workers by observation, participation, in-depth interviewing, historical analysis and cross-cultural comparison. It utilises a Symbolic Interactionist perspective and a Dramaturgical focus, and employs a conflict model of social control to examine the form of constraint experienced by members. An ethnography of funeral work is presented and the development of a funeral director is described. The study is interpretive, examining the manner in which occupational roles are conceived and presented, and the type of client-relationships developed by funeral services. The historical development of 18th Century tradesmen to contemporary entrepreneurs is traced and the rewards available to successful contenders is assessed. The search for collective occupational status in the United Kingdom is compared to that already achieved in Newfoundland, and the ambivalence attached to the performance of funeral directing in the United Kingdom is outlined. The occupation is shown to be a successful example of a capitalist free-market business enterprise, in which goods and services are sold to customers for profit. Overt commercialism is concealed behind a claimed professionalism to reduce client unease concerning the appropriate role for those who handle the dead on their behalf. The occupation is characterised by high profits, secure market, competitive individualism, dominance of small family businesses, weak collegiate control, low level of occupation specialism and unsophisticated intellectual knowledge. Present market dominance is unlikely to face challenge in the foreseeable future, but continued market monopoly will not necessarily erradicate current status ambiguity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Sociology