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Why different countries manage death differently: a comparative analysis of modern urban societies




The sociology of death, dying and bereavement tends to take as its implicit frame either the nation state or a homogenous modernity. Between-nation differences in the management of death and dying are either ignored or untheorized. This article seeks to identify the factors that can explain both similarities and differences in the management of death between different modern western nations. Structural factors which affect all modern nations include urbanization and the division of labour leading to the dominance of professionals, migration, rationality and bureaucracy, information technology and the risk society. How these sociologically familiar structural features are responded to, however, depends on national histories, institutions and cultures. Historically, key transitional periods to modernity, different in different nations, necessitated particular institutional responses in the management of dying and dead bodies. Culturally, key factors include individualism versus collectivism, religion, secularization, boundary regulation, and expressivism. Global flows of death practices depend significantly on subjugated nations' perceptions of colonialism, neo-colonialism and modernity, which can lead to a dominant power's death practices being either imitated or rejected.