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Lecture 3

Thanatology 2200 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Ernest Becker, Terror Management Theory, Make America Great Again

Course Code
THAN 2200
Darcy Harris

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Unit Three-- Historical Overview/Sociology of Death
In this section, we will begin to look at all of the ways that we have been influenced in our thinking about death and
Death System
When we look at how we have been influenced in our thinking of death, we are referring to our Death system, which is
the framework by which the relationship to mortality is mediated and expressed. It is our orientation toward death. It is
the total range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are directly or indirectly related to death. Every society has a
death system. In very society, some aspects of the death system may be formal and explicitly stated, while others may
be hidden or unspoken.
In looking at a "death system," we look at the manner in which we comprehend death or live our dying. It is our
"orientation" to death. It is the network of personal, social, religious, philosophical, and psychological ways that we
handle death. It involves people, places, things, feelings, behaviours, ideas, and symbols that influence our attitudes
about death.
The term "death system" refers to the picture or world view that we, individually or as a society, have of death at any
given time. It is our death system that dictates how we react to dying, death, and bereavement. Death systems are not
static; they are constantly changing. The death system is a very useful concept. It refers to the way that our culture
organizes our knowledge of and attitudes toward death and bereavement. Dying is a fact, bereavement is a fact, but
dying and grieving are processes in which we engage. Like all processes, we engage in them in the manner in which we
have been taught. This teaching is what is referred to as the death system.
Components of a death system:
1. Peopleindividuals who interact with death on a regular basis, such as funeral directors, police officers, health
care professionals, and anyone who serves an ancillary role to these individuals, such as florists who provide
flowers for funerals.
2. Placeslocations where death occurs, is handled, or discussed, such as funeral homes, morgues, hospitals,
cemeteries, and battlefields.
3. Timesincludes certain holidays that are associated with death, such as Memorial Day, Remembrance Day,
Good Friday, and the Day of the Dead (Mexico).
4. Objects and symbolsthese are objects and items that are related to death, such as caskets, memorial candles,
funeral stationery and flyers. Symbols may include a skull and crossbones, wearing black, or linking objects that
connect people with those who are deceased.
There are many factors that define and redefine a particular Death System over time. Some of these factors include:
Life expectancy
Exposure to death
How we understand the physical universe
Our perception of what it means to be a human person
In contemporary Western society, with increasing life expectancy, decreasing exposure to death, a perceived control
over nature, and a belief in the uniqueness of each individual person, has tended to put death "out of mind," or not take
it seriously, to deny its importance or reality.
The impact on the dying and the bereaved has been a dramatic alienation from the type of support they need
and deserve. If one lives in a culture in which you rarely see death, such as in Western culture, then death
always comes as a shock. In contrast to this view is a culture where death is seen as a
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neighbor and openly present, in which one would expect death and bereavement to occur and would see it as a
normal part of life.
For more information about the concept of the death system, you can go to
Evolving Attitudes of Death and Dying --Ivan IllichLimits to Medicine/Medical Nemesis (1976)
15th CenturyDance of the Dead
Death had been seen as a divine act of God
A natural part of life, a source of renewal, a highly religious act
Individuals have no control over mortality, dependent on faith
With the dawning of the Reformation movement; emergence of religious liberty and freedom
Death became Autonomous; Recognition of the universality of mortality- each and every living soul is united
through death
16th CenturyDance of Death
Death transformed into an independent figure
A Force of Nature, calling on every human being to be in its grip and with which to battle
New fear of being "in the grip of death
Death as the great equalizer
Fall of the Church, Black Death, and the Great Plague in Europe
Death was the ultimate end, individuals were left to find meaning
Practices for ensuring a good, easy and speedy death Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) became popular
17th - 18th Century Bourgeois Death
The Industrial Revolution created employment and wealth, marking the emergence of Bourgeois family
Rise of the Medical Market without Institutional Justice
Allowed the wealthy to purchase health and to keep death away
Poor were often left for dead with the stroke of illness
Good health of children became a responsibility borne by parents
Old age became a privilege defined through class and economic power
Death became an Untimely Event
Late 18th to 19th Century ClinicalDeath
Death is the outcome of specific disease certified by the doctor
In 1803, the first Civil Code was enacted to require an medical officer be present to verify death
Ability to control disease gave rise to the myth of control over death
Supremacy over health thrust physicians into new elite status
A new Death-Denying culture emerges
20th Century Health as Commodity
By 20th Century and with the enactment of the Universal Declaration of Human Right to health
Good health/death through institutionalized care had become a service that society owed to all its members.
New from of mortality endorsed new forms of social control.
The state was now responsible for the proper deaths of all men and women.
Deaths without appropriate medical treatment were liable to legal inquiries.
Idiiduals’ resposiilit for upholdig their o well-being diminished
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