Distinction in death: an analysis of individuality, sociality, and brand consumption in contemporary American funeral practices
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To date, a growing number of contemporary Americans have come to trust that recognizable commodity brands and personal consumer preferences now provide the best means of personalizing funerals and communicating individualized distinction on behalf of the dead. For some, this form of personalization has come to include everything from Mickey Mouse gravestones to Major League Baseball themed caskets and memorial services. In this study, I examine how and why the funeral has become, for some Americans, a site for commodity branding and such seemingly consumer-centric expressions of distinction in times death. Through observations and interviews with a small number of deathcare professionals and patrons, I document in this thesis the personal experiences and anecdotes of those directly involved with these specific mortuary trends. This testimony is then analyzed with regards to a history of mortuary ritual, research on brand consumption, and most importantly Pierre Bourdieu's framework for social distinction. As such, this thesis is aimed at understanding how and why commodities, brands, and consumer preferences have become a meaningful element in communication of social distinction in some contemporary American funeral rituals. Yet as my findings suggest, perhaps these consumer-centric, seemingly novel expressions of individuality are indeed not as personal as one might initially assume.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- History and theory -- Data and methodology -- Findings and analysis -- Conclusions