soc246 notes class 12.doc

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16 Apr 2012
Sociology of Aging
Class Notes
Fall 2011, Class 12
I. Introduction
The reading today (Endings by Michael Kearl) gives an account of two ap-
proaches to death and dying that are prevalent in modern times:
(1) One that is subjective, humanistic, and philosophical -- what is the
meaning of life and death?
(2) Another that is scientific and seeks an objective description of life and
hebrews- sheo this underworld of nothingness
christianity- dante’s inferno
islam- paradise, rest and relaxation, place of beauty
Death was centred around religion, and mystical passageways, that per-
meated western life in early centuries.
II. Modernity and death
According to the eminent British sociologist Anthony Giddens, the hallmark of
modernity is “its purchasing of ontological security through institutions and
routines that protect us from direct contact with madness, criminality, sexual-
ity, nature, and death.”1 Modernity represents “the exclusion of social life from
fundamental existential issues which raise moral dilemmas for human
He’s saying that institutions have created a distance in reality
Ex. a building in which we pump in air and control the sterile environment we
are very much separated from nature, which is what Giddens is trying to say
institutions do to our existential reality
1 Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pg.
2 Ibid
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Shift in location of death
·49% in hospital
·31% LTC
·20% at home
(Statistics Canada 2006)
This is clearly very different from how life was even 100 years ago. 1/3
of all deaths had been among children. So much more death now is
among older people, so less people now experience actually seeing
death than before.
Emphasis on the medical and scientific understanding of death
-Technology in the mid 20th century allowed a distinction between
cardiopulmonary function and brain function
-So how can we now distinguish death if you can separate these two
Description via euphemism
“sleep,” “pass away,” rest”
Medical and scientific aspects over mystical or magical notions
· With better understanding of neuroscience, definitions of death
came to emphasize brain functioning: e.g., “human death is the irre-
versible cessation of functioning of the entire brain3
3 David DeGrazia, "The Definition of Death", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall
2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
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