A round-up of recent sources by sociologists and/or about sociology in action. This week, we focus on topics such as prolonged death, cemeteries as social spaces, different cultural practices and attitudes toward death, and the funeral industry.
Perhaps from naiveté, or a certain rash boldness, I never considered my walking practice as strange, or particularly dangerous. And it wasn’t until two years ago, when I read psychogeographer Geoff Nicholson’s account of taking a walk through Abney Park Cemetery, that I considered my gender – and my favourite pastime – could be perceived this way.
In every other part of medicine, doctors make recommendations for medications, lifestyle changes and surgeries. We don’t offer cancer patients six different chemotherapy regimens and ask them to weigh the pros and cons. Yet when it comes to end-of-life decisions, doctors are terrified of violating patient autonomy. We are scared of our own medical opinions.
Everyone has to die. Death is one of the few, truly universal experiences shared by people of all races, cultures, and creeds. And the way in which different cultures tend to their dead is as varied, and as colorful, as humanity itself. Yet in the United States, real death—not the kind we see daily on our televisions—has been almost entirely hidden from sight.
Nessa Coyle calls it ‘the existential slap’—that moment when a dying person first comprehends, on a gut level, that death is close. For many, the realization comes suddenly: ‘The usual habit of allowing thoughts of death to remain in the background is now impossible,’ Coyle, a nurse and palliative-care pioneer, has written. ‘Death can no longer be denied.’
The benefit of death cleaning to your loved ones who won’t have to do it for you is fairly straightforward. But what about the happiness and enjoyment on your end? Psychology and sociology offer some interesting reasons why going through our possessions, paring down and cleaning out really can be helpful — and why it really might be prudent to not wait too long before jumping on the trend.
These deaths and our responses to them are emblematic of a unique social phenomenon: Why do we feel attached to, and intimate with, people we’ve never met? Why does the death of a stranger on the public stage impact us so deeply and traumatically, and how can we understand our relationships to these people and their deaths?
To Doughty there’s no right or wrong way to do things, including the standard American way, but she would like people to have access to a wider range of choices — such as burying a loved one’s remains on private property, or setting them on a mountaintop for the vultures.
After spreading across 51 countries since September 2011, the Death Café has come to India now. More than 10 sessions of Death Café have been held in various cities in India, including Hyderabad and Bengaluru, since February this year. From losing their dear ones to what is a definition of good death to the pressure of crying at the funeral, the participants from all walks of life talk about the most significant event of their lives — death.
Aveline is doing research on ‘apparitional experiences’ and is collecting stories from people across the country that have seen or otherwise encountered what they believe to be ghosts.