Commercializing Death and Appropriating Mourning. Negotiating Bereavement Scripts Among Italian Families and Funeral Service Workers.

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Elisa ARFINI, University of Milan, Italy
Roberta SASSATELLI, university of Milan, Italy
Death is allegedly removed from everyday life in the global West. However, bereavement remains an important experience which is culturally coded as highly personal and emotionally dense. This contrasts with the sometimes aggressive advertising strategies of the undertaking and funeral industry. In this paper, based on a large number of semistructured interviews with Italian families and funeral service workers, we explore how bereaved families meet the funeral industry and negotiate emotions in an increased commercialized setting. Deploying the notion of emotional labour, we explore how funeral service workers facilitate the aftermath of death and the many practices which surround the death of a family member or beloved person. We further consider how emotional rules are marshalled by family members to de-commodify their dealing with the duties associated with the death of a close person, with particular attention to the rituals surrounding the dead body and the memory of the deceased. The analysis proceeds by reconstructing the bereavement scripts which are co-constructed by families and workers, to enquire how the commodity frontier is negotiated in such emotionally dense an intensely intimate moments. All in all, the paper aims to add to the literature on contemporary attitudes towards dying, bereavement and the dead body with particular attention to the way commercial and intimate social relations intermingle, and with the view to deploy Hochschild's sociology of emotions and her reflections on the commercialization of intimacy may be applied to this field. Furthermore, we place the result of the specifically Italian context in the framework of the broader literature on dying and bereavement in the Global West to individuate some of the specificity of a Nation which is both deeply influenced by Catholicism and has reached consumer modernity later than others.