The themes addressed in this volume - death, gender and ethnicity - have until recently been pursued as largely separate areas of study. Yet, as the material presented indicates, gender and ethnicity are in no way set aside at the time of death or during bereavement. They remain salient features of social identity during the last stages of life, just as they do in its first moments. Indeed, if anything their significance intensifies, as evidenced in the case of shocked family mourners whose recently deceased grandmother, Olive, had her social identity radically transformed by a tiny slip of the minister’s pen. This resulted in the entire congregation being invited to bid farewell to their dear departed brother, ‘Clive’.
The contributors to this volume are sociologists and anthropologists with a shared research interest in death, dying and bereavement. Together, they provide a series of accounts of the interrelationship of death, gender and ethnicity. While death and dying have been a focus for research among theorists and practitioners from many fields, it is timely and indeed appropriate that social scientists for whom social differences are stock-in-trade should be questioning a tendency to treat death as if its universality somehow transcended rather than revealed such differences.
This book is the second to emerge from the annual symposia on Social Aspects of Death, Dying and Bereavement. With a strong sociological orientation, this volume is offered as a development of themes and issues raised in the first of these, The Sociology of Death, edited by David Clark. The majority of the chapters in this book were first presented as oral papers to the fourth and fifth annual symposia held in November 1994 and November 1995. The remaining chapters were specially commissioned for the book. Other papers from these symposia have been published elsewhere. We are grateful to the Medical Sociology Group of the British Sociological Association for giving financial support to these meetings.