Death, Gender, and Ethnicity

By David Field; Jenny Hockey et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

Making sense of difference

Death, gender and ethnicity in modern Britain

David Field, Jenny Hockey and Neil Small


INTRODUCTION

Death has often been represented as the ‘great leveller’ who returns both monarch and beggar to a common dust. As such this image has been used both to diminish the political zeal of those who would reform earthly inequalities (Illich 1977) as well as to undermine the power and status of those who assume positions of authority. This volume demonstrates that while the image of death as the great leveller may have powerful political and religious overtones, it is a far from accurate representation. Worldly inequalities are in no way levelled at the time of death but persist, permeating every aspect of death and dying. The timing, place, manner and social implications of an individual’s death are shaped by their social position in the society. Age, ethnicity, gender, social class and sexuality all profoundly affect the ways people experience death, dying and bereavement. Such forms of social differentiation should not be seen as fixed elements of a reified ‘society’ which bear down upon us in life and in death (West and Zimmerman 1991) for they are produced precisely through the ways in which we live our lives and encounter our deaths. Rather than being unaffected by them, differences and diversity in the manner and social implications of dying are both constituted by and constitutive of such social identities. This volume takes gender and ethnicity as its areas of interest but many of the chapters reveal the ways in which these are themselves cross-cut by other forms of social identity and social differentiation such as age and social class.

The ways in which a society deals with death reveal a great deal about that society, especially about the ways in which

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