Bodies and Ceremonies: Is the UK funeral industry still fit for purpose?

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Funerals may be defined as the ritual or ceremonial disposal of a body; the two essential components are therefore a body and a ceremony/ritual. The UK funeral industry’s structure revolves around those who manage the body rather than the ceremony. This structure, in which the client contracts with a funeral director who subcontracts the funeral ceremony to a priest or celebrant, was fit for purpose in the nineteenth century when most of the family’s choices concerned hardware (coffins, carriages, horses, etc) for the body’s containment and transport. It may no longer be fit, however, in the twenty first century when, for many families, the major choices concern how to personalise the ceremony. In theory, it might therefore now be more appropriate for at least some families first to contract with a celebrant, who would then subcontract the body’s care, storage and transport, reversing who is contractor and who is subcontractor. In practice, factors on both the demand and supply side keep the industry’s present structure in place. Though the past 25 years have seen much innovation, conservative innovations such as celebrancy and green burial that accept the industry’s existing structure have proved more successful than radical innovations that challenge it. This hinders measures to reduce funeral costs and funeral poverty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-208
Issue number3
Early online date15 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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