Hierarchies of loss: a critique of disenfranchised grief

Patricia Robson, Tony Walter

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63 Citations (SciVal)


Two aspects of the concept of disenfranchised grief are examined: its binary assumption that grief is either enfranchised or disenfranchised, and its emancipatory agenda that grief should not be socially regulated. Focussing on the mourner’s relationship to the deceased, we argue that social norms about the legitimacy of bereavement are not binary (yes-no), but are scalar or hierarchical, or even more complex still. We report on a tool for identifying hierarchies of loss, and describe the hierarchy identified by this tool in one British study. If norms about loss are not binary but hierarchical, how has disenfranchised grief – which claims to be a theory of norms - become an uncontested concept within bereavement research and clinical practice? We point to its rhetorical value in the postmodern politics of grief and its seductive emancipatory symbolism within the clinic; its value both for clinical practice and for empirical research into bereavement norms, however, may be limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-119
Number of pages23
JournalOmega: Journal of Death & Dying
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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