Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work and Public Health

First Advisor

Cheleen Mahar

Abstract

American culture primarily functions within a scientific belief system, where all phenomena can be explained via the natural sciences, and death is the end of biological life. If death is the termination of life, death is also the cessation of the "American Dream." Subsequently, death becomes an act of deviance and is confined to the medical institution. Traditional American rituals associated with the human corpse have been lost. Healthcare providers are now the primary caregivers to the dying and the corpse. Since death rituals are no longer supplied by American culture, this thesis argues that medical professionals have created their own rituals in the form of medical procedures. This research seeks to understand how postmortem care, a scientifically based medical procedure, is ritualized by healthcare providers to normalize and assign meaning to death in a culture where dying is deviant behavior. Data for the study was gathered qualitatively via participant observation and interviews. The analysis of the data relies heavily on the discipline of thanatology, as well as incorporating theories of symbolic anthropology and social interactionism.

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