Whatever happened to social class? An examination of the neglect of working class cultures in the sociology of death

Howarth, Glennys
December 2007
Health Sociology Review;Dec2007, Vol. 16 Issue 5, p425
Academic Journal
This paper explores the development of the sociology of death. It begins by tracing some of the major trends in sociology more generally that have influenced understandings of the social impact of mortality. The question is then raised as to why sociologists of death have hitherto largely failed to research into working-class cultures of death. Following a brief discussion of some of the literature that has considered working-class practices, a number of explanations are offered for this relative neglect: that social class is no longer relevant in postmodern societies; that the creation of death studies as a specialism in sociology has isolated academics from the conceptual concerns of mainstream sociology; that the personal-political agendas of middle-class academics working in this field have shaped the preoccupations of researchers. The last of these explanations is explored in greater depth by linking work on death to the sociology of the body and that of the emotions. To examine some key social class distinctions, the assertion of working-class stoicism is contrasted with a middle-class privileging of verbal communication. The paper concludes with an appeal to sociologists of death to reinstate social class as a significant factor in understandings of the social nature of mortality.


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