Going to Funerals in Contemporary Britain
: The Individual, the Family and the Meeting with Death

  • Tara Bailey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis documents mourners’ experiences of funerals in contemporary Britain, and considers the implications of these for an understanding of funerals’ social significance. It represents the first time that experiences of these people, who attend funerals but do not contribute to their planning, have been taken into account in an analysis of funerals in contemporary Britain.The data on which the thesis draws have been generated in collaboration with the Mass-Observation Project, a long-running, large-scale qualitative writing project based at the University of Sussex. Participants in the project are self-identified ‘ordinary people’ who were asked to write in detail about the most recent funeral they had been to, as well as the best and worst they had ever attended. These data were analysed thematically.The thesis argues that the three previously identified ‘authorities’ over death and dying of religion/tradition, professional/expert, and individual/self do not fully account for mourners’ experiences of funerals. By examining the ‘doing’ and ‘displaying’ of family at funerals, the thesis demonstrates that for mourners, the family constitutes a further authority over the funeral.Among other themes, the significance of speakers at the funeral and of mourners’ own authenticity are drawn on to then argue that Davies’ theorisation of funerals as ‘words against death’ needs to take account not only of what is done at funerals but who does it; that funerals are also ‘people and their relationships against death’.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTony Walter (Supervisor) & Kate Woodthorpe (Supervisor)


  • funerals
  • mourners
  • mourning
  • displaying family
  • mass observation

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