Funerals and families: locating death as a relational issue

Kate Woodthorpe, Hannah Rumble

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Situated at the intersection of the Sociology of Death and Sociology of the Family, this paper argues that the organization and funding of funerals is an overlooked and available lens through which to examine cultural and political norms of familial obligation. Drawing on interviews with claimants to the Department for Work and Pensions’ Social Fund Funeral Payment, the paper shows how both responsibility for the organization and payment of a funeral is assumed within families, and how at times this can be overridden by the state. In highlighting the tension between reflexive choice and political norms of family espoused in this policy context, it supports Gilding's (2010) assertion that understanding family practice through reflexivity alone neglects the institutions and conventions within which ‘doing’ family takes place. In so doing, the paper further makes a case for families and relational negotiations and tensions to be more explicitly included within sociological understanding(s) of death more generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-259
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number2
Early online date5 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2016


  • Family
  • funerals
  • norms
  • obligation
  • reflexive relationism


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