Outsourcing of Death Treatment Under Modernization ; Comparative Studies for Funeral Ceremony

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Katsumi SHIMANE, Senshu University, Japan
Conducting funeral ceremonies has been one of the most important and sacred rituals in collective life. Corpses have been treated either as something sacred or something impure since the pre-historical period.

In this paper I argue that the interaction orders of life and death which funeral ceremonies reveal have been transforming rapidly in modern society and this means the mutual help function of community life has been weakened and reciprocity has been outsourced to the market in the modernization process.

The sociological approaches to studying funeral ceremonies are not so many. Mitford (1963) criticized the commercialization of American funerals. Harbenstein and Lamers (1994) argued that funeral customs are strongly resistant to change, and when change does come, it comes slowly. I emphasize that transformation is “not” so slow under modernization.. I will make this clear with both quantitative and qualitative surveys.

Senshu University conducted research surveys in seven countries of East and Southeast Asia. The results show that the higher a country’s GDP is the lower attendance rate of neighbors is. In countries which have a lower Infant Mortality Rate, people also tend not to take part in neighbor’s funerals. This means the funerals are carried out by neighbors only in underdeveloped countries.

I conducted participant observations and interviews in seven countries, Uganda, Mongolia, Vietnam, China, France, USA and Japan. I found that funerals are commercialized in the developed countries and that the traditional styles are lost. The funeral services moved away from local communities, relatives and even family members, with the funeral industries taking their place. And communities are losing mutual help function.

Each country had diverse funeral rituals in the past. Now the funeral is rapidly transforming due to modernization with what looks like the outsourcing of death treatment from the family and community.