Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Ruth McManus, Death in a Global Age

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Ruth McManus, Death in a Global Age

Article excerpt

Ruth McManus, Death in a Global Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, 268 pp., $30.00 Paperback (9780230224520)

The first striking thing about this book is the title itself. Death in the Global Age is a serious attempt to go beyond national borders and "highlight how contemporary changes in the social world (such as increased mobility, interconnectivity and global communication networks) are present in death as they are in life" (3). As such, this book is a credible answer to Ulrich Beck's call to reinvent sociology for the twenty first century by transcending "methodological nationalism," or the long standing sociological convention of analyzing societies as distinct national states, which is best exemplified by Talcott Parsons' conception of societies as "closed and self-equilibrating systems" (Beck 2005, 338). Focusing on the phenomenon of inequality, Beck proposes two steps for reinventing sociology: first de-constructing the traditional state-bound sociology of inequality and then re-constructing it for the global age. Of these two tasks of de-construction and re-construction, McManus focuses on the second.

What McManus aims to achieve is thus complex: on the one hand, she writes a book that appears to be targeting students and newcomers in the field, aiming to expose them to the main theoretical debates and substantive questions within the sociology of death and dying. At the same time, she attempts to reinvent the field itself by taking into account the interconnectedness of societies on the economic, political, and communicative fronts. The result is a book that far exceeds what is conventionally expected of a textbook and will be an informative resource for experts and newcomers alike.

McManus begins with a discussion of key theoretical perspectives in sociology--focusing on their ontological, epistemological, and axiological dimensions--and considers how they can inform current substantive discussions of death. Among the classic figures, Durkheim and Weber are highlighted, and among the key sociological perspectives structural-functionalism, interactionism, critical realism, and discursive approaches are examined. It is interesting to see how each of these perspectives sheds a different light on death. This chapter would have been much more informative if the choice of theories/theorists was explicitly justified and if the discussion of each theoretical perspective in relation to death was carried out more systematically. The readers could have also benefited from a more explicit discussion of McManus' own theoretical reference points, which, after having read the whole book, appears to be Beck's and Giddens' theories of advanced modernity, globalization, and cosmopolitanism.

The second chapter outlines a new global death paradigm; that is, a new perspective for discussing death "linked to globally scaled networks" in the political, economic, cultural and kinship domains. Case studies of the global networks of blood and organ donations are used to illustrate the new social organization of death and dying. This chapter convincingly illustrates the interconnectedness of life and death globally and the fact that, rather than being denied, death is commodified and commercialized.

Other chapters apply the same global perspective to studying such salient topics in death and dying literature as life expectancy, the death industries, funerary rites, grief, mass death, religion, and the changing moral codes governing the representation and depiction of death. Of these I personally found the third chapter on demographic trends and life expectancies to be the most successful in terms of the application of a global outlook. But the book, overall, is not evenhanded in its discussion of the global currents influencing life and death. …

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