Change and development in the British funeral industry during the 20th century, with special reference to the period 1960-1994

Parsons, B. 1997. Change and development in the British funeral industry during the 20th century, with special reference to the period 1960-1994. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages

TitleChange and development in the British funeral industry during the 20th century, with special reference to the period 1960-1994
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsParsons, B.
Abstract

Historical evidence indicates that the role of the undertaker gradually evolved as the

collective responsibilities of family and community for dealing with the dead were

passed to a full-time specialist known today as the funeral director.

Around 1900 the function of the undertaker was chiefly to supply the coffin and the

means of transportation to the place of disposal. However, due to urbanization and the

transition of the place of death from home to hospital, both of which have occurred this century, the funeral director's role has developed to embrace that of the custodian of the dead. In conjunction with the preference towards cremation, the shift from animate to vehicular power and the adoption of embalming, the funeral director

has acquired not only increased responsibilibty but also considerable control over funeral performance.

Parallel with these developments ,a shift in ownership of funeral firms has occurred

especially during the last three decades as independent organizations have been

acquired by large organizations. This latter type of firm has, it is argued, exploited

occupational control attributable to the rationalization of the death and disposal

environment by managing their funeral operations on a centralized basis, thus

achieving cost savings.

Commencing with an overview of the organization of death and disposal since the

fifteenth century, this thesis identifies and examines societal and technical changes that

have resulted in the control of the disposal process by formal organizations. It is argued

in this thesis that through the large centralized organization gaining a presence in the

funeral industry a number of negative consequences are apparent. Firstly, although

operational economies are achieved there is no evidence to suggest that these are

passed on to the consumer. Secondly, retention of the original trading name deceives

the public. Thirdly, through fieldwork conducted in a small, independent firm and

within a large centralized organization it is concluded that a degree of depersonalization

exists.

It is further argued that the operational rationale of the large funeral organizations

is being challenged as the recent increase in consumer awareness has led to the question

of exploitation, such as through a monopoly market structure. The position is

compounded by the emerging trend of newly-established independent funeral directors

offering competitively priced funerals.

The final area examined is the issue of professionalization of the funeral director.

Reasons why funeral directors embarked upon this quest are examined followed by an

analysis of strategies to achieve the objective. The change in the funeral director's role

and the issue of stigmatization through bodyhandling are critically assessed in addition

to the contribution to the process by the operational policies of the large organization.

Year1997
FileParsons.pdf
Publication dates
Completed1997

Related outputs

Conflict in the context of care: an examination of role conflict between the bereaved and the funeral director in the UK
Parsons, B. 2003. Conflict in the context of care: an examination of role conflict between the bereaved and the funeral director in the UK. Mortality. 8 (1), pp. 68-87.

Permalink - https://westminsterresearch.westminster.ac.uk/item/9481q/change-and-development-in-the-british-funeral-industry-during-the-20th-century-with-special-reference-to-the-period-1960-1994


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