Analysis of Work in Funeral Homes & Mortuaries


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If I were to be researching the ways that workers or actors in funeral homes and mortuaries interact with their fellow workers, as well as the costumers, I would begin by choosing what method of research would be most efficient for my analysis and I would then be deciding upon the specifics about conducting the research. If the proper time was granted, the method of research that would be most efficient would be to conduct an ethnographic study in the setting of the funeral home. I chose the ethnographic study because I believe it is the most extensive and the one research method that would allow me to be invested into the funeral home enough to understand the things that are happening not only up front, but also behind the scenes. Being able to observe and analyze both circumstances would be crucial to my understanding of what actually goes on in funeral homes.

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I also think this method to be the best for this example because it would grant me the chance to interact with these people in their real everyday lives with no barriers between us. I would go about doing this by attempting to secure a job or a shadowing position in the funeral home. I believe that actually having a position in the funeral home would allow me to interact with the workers and the customers without interrupting or interfering with the work that they do. This method would secure more honest answers compared to intrusive interviews. Any type of intrusive research would be inappropriate in this setting, considering that the customers of the funeral homes are most likely only there because they have lost a loved one, which I believe would create a very sensitive environment. During my stay at the funeral home I would have to take extensive notes about the interactions between the workers themselves and the interactions with the customers of the funeral home. Later, I would be able to analyze these notes and begin putting together my ethnography after attaching meaning to the observations that I made.

I believe conducting an ethnographic study inside the funeral homes would provide me with the most unbiased and accurate information. Through observing and interacting with the workers and customers, I would be able to extract enough knowledge about the situation to provide a detailed and accurate representation of what goes on in all the aspects of the funeral homes. It would be crucial that I relay accurate information because my work would be influencing those who also choose to study or research funeral homes and mortuaries. Throughout time many sociologists have supplied insight that has changed the way we view work from the sociological perspective. Despite the countless contributors, some of the biggest influences have come from Karl Marx, Max Weber, Harry Braverman, and Arlie Russel Hochschild. These sociologists have changed the way we view and understand work today. Karl Marx is attributed with giving us the idea of alienated labor. More specifically, his theory gave us four different types of alienation.

The first type of alienation is alienation from the product of labor. This type of alienation stems from the point that workers do not own the products that they are making or helping make. The second type of alienation is alienation from other workers. The type of alienation stems from the point that the labor market is so competitive that the workers are forced to compete with each other in an attempt to see which worker(s) will sell their labor for the cheapest price. The third type of alienation is alienation from the process of labor. This type of alienation results from the fact that the tasks the workers are having to preform are not only extremely repetitive and non-creative, but the worker also knows that the compensation that comes from the work is mandatory for their survival, therefore making the work devoid of true meaning. The fourth and final type of alienation is the alienation of the worker from their species-being. This type of alienation entails the worker losing their individuality and aspirations towards self-improvement because the worker is forced to sell their work as a commodity to survive.

The quote I chose to represent the contribution of Marx is “The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his productions increases in power and size. The worker becomes and ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things.” (Marx 1932:4). I chose this quote because I feel like it accurately captures the message that Marx is trying to convey though his theory of alienation. All four types of alienation imply an understanding that the more the workers give to their job, the less of themselves they become. The workers are alienated from the product, the process, other workers, and their species being, which only leaves the work itself. The more they produce, the more that is taken from them. The second person who had major influence on the way we view work was Max Weber. One of Weber’s most important contribution was his theory of bureaucracy. In his theory, he gives six characteristics of the ideal type of bureaucracy.

The six characteristics were a Hierarchy of Authority, Division of Labor, Rules and Regulations, Meritocracy, Efficiency, and Impersonal relationships. These six things gave an ideal type of what Weber thought to be a perfectly running bureaucracy. Weber believed that a bureaucracy was the most efficient way for humans to organize their economic activities. The quote I chose to represent Weber’s contributions appears he shares the three elements of bureaucratic authority or management. Weber says, Bureaucracy, thus understood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modern state, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism.” (Weber 1946:11). I chose this quote because I believe it is crucial to Weber’s work on the theory of Bureaucracy. Knowing and understanding the differences in bureaucracy between these two domains is necessary in understanding the characteristics that weber gives for his theory of the ideal type of bureaucracy. The third person who had major influence was Harry Braverman.

One of Braveman’s most important contributions was his understanding on how and why the division of labor was such an efficient strategy. Braverman owes the efficiency of the division of labor to three characteristics. He says “First, to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman; secondly, to the saving of time which is lost in passing work from one species to another; and lastly, to the invention of a great number of machines which enable one man to do the work of many.” (Braverman 1974:26). I chose this quote because it accurately captures the factors that allow the division of labor to be successful is a simple way. These three characteristics are the backbone of the division of labor, and the only reason it has remained efficient enough to be a main part of industrial organizations since it was introduced. The final noteworthy contributions are the work of Arlie Russel Hochschild. Hochschild introduces to us the idea of emotional labor.

She describes emotional labor as the process in which workers have to create or suppress their emotions in order to create the ideal environment in whatever setting they may be working in. She compares emotional labor to manual labor done in assembly lines in the late 1800’s. She uses this comparison to draw a line of similarity between the alienation of manual workers, as stated above within the work of Marx, and of emotional workers. Although she is able to point out the positive aspects of emotional work, the part that stuck with me was more focused on the negative. Hochschild says, “There is a cost to emotional work; it affects the degree to which we listen to feeling and sometimes our very capacity to feel.” (Hochschild 1983:35). I chose this quote because I do agree with her when she says that emotional work can be good, but I also believe that it is important to understand how it could negatively affect those who work in emotional labor heavy jobs. This leaves me wondering where the imaginary line is drawn when it comes to this line of work, and how important customer contentment is in relation to the well-being of emotional laborers.

In Class Acts by Rachel Sherman, the luxury hotel workers have found ways to cast themselves as powerful among their clients who happen to possess large amounts of money, enough to spend several hundred to thousands of dollars on a single stay in a luxury hotel. The hotel workers have two strategies to ensure they remain powerful; consent and the normalization of inequality. The strategy of consent begins with the hotel workers need for control. They achieve this by playing “games” amongst themselves. These games allow the workers to cast themselves as powerful and in control of the work that they are doing. Doing this also gives the hotel workers a sense of autonomy and importance. The way that this strategy translates into the workers having power or being superior to the guest is because the guests must respect the workers consent in order to get the type of service they want. Guests, while making demands must take into consideration that they still require the consent of the worker. Because this is a job and a professional setting, the workers must always provide for the guests. However, if the guests do not respect the fact that the workers are consenting to do these tasks for them, the workers may still withdraw their consent in small trivial ways that may not be noticeable to their managers, but are definitely noticeable to the guest.

The other way that the workers are able to cast themselves as powerful is through the strategy of normalizing the inequality between them. The workers at the luxury hotel and the guests that stay there are almost as far apart as they can be when it comes to class and socioeconomic positions. The workers are able to normalize this large unequaled gap between them and the guests by consenting to provide their labor on a strictly individual basis. When the workers normalize their inequality, it makes it easy to normalize the guests’ strong entitlement. This goes to support Sherman’s argument that “The breakdown of normalization and withdrawal of consent are intertwined.” (Sherman 2007:61). The luxury hotel workers are only able to go forth with these strategies under certain conditions. The luxury hotel setting is necessary not only because the hotel setting itself allows the workers to be the ones in control, but also because of the contrast in class between the wealthy hotel guests and the non-wealthy workers. This contrasts make it easier for the guests to go forth with their games, or strategies.

Fordism is a term that may be used to describe the system of large scale standardized production. Although this method of production was very successful when it originated, we have seen several industries switch over to a new method of industrial organization called flexible specialization. This method of production allows smaller more specialized firms to produce goods in small quantities, which gives the option to change production in a short notice. Although many industries have made this transition, the switch within the fashion industry is an important example. To be more specific, my example of the shift in the fashion industry will have a focus on the production of denim jeans. The first production of jeans was initiated by the still popular brand, Levi Strauss, in 1873. However, large scale, fordist modes of jean production was not popular until sometime after.

The production of jeans at this time was very standardized and offered little to no variety in the types of jeans being produced. Because of this, large manufacturing companies were the way to go when it came to trying to produce the most amount of jeans in the quickest and cheapest way possible. This method was very successful until the late portion of the 19th century when denim jeans sales began to rapidly decline. The decline in sales caused many large scale manufacturing companies to shut down business, and shorty after we see the rise of flexible specialization. The decline in denim sales had a lot to do with the emergence of individualized fashion, which began to take place in mid-19th century. During this time, there was a rise in the want to appear differently than those around you, in an attempt to create individualized identities.

After the shutdown of the large scale jean manufacturing companies, producers began to take into consideration consumer demand and what they wanted which lead us to the very beginning of flexible specialization (Crane 2000). At this point, during the latter potion of the 19th century, denim jean producers began to produce small batches of jeans which gave them the ability to specialize and make a wider variety of products that satisfied a wider variety of consumers. This shift from Fordism production to flexible specialization within the denim jean industry changed the fashion industry as a whole. I believe that the fashion industry is a good example of the transition because without the shift, the fashion industry could have never kept up with the ever changing demands of consumers when it comes to garments of clothing.

I do not believe that Fordism and flexible specialization are mutually exclusive, I think that there are certain instances where they can, and do coexist. For example, take into consideration any industry that still uses methods of mass production. Although these industries still follow a fordist method of production, there are still several situations in which they outsource to smaller more specialized companies to aid them in creating a specific part of their product that cannot be produced in house. The existence of these industries tell me that Fordism and flexible specialization are not mutually exclusive.


1. Braverman, Harry. 1974. “The Division of Labor,” in Labor and Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly Review Press.

2. Crane, Diana. 2000. “Fashion Worlds and Global Markets: From ‘Class’ to ‘Consumer’ Fashion”, in Fashion and its Social Agendas: Class, Gender and Identity in Clothing. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

3. Hochschild, Arlie. 1983. “The Managed Heart,” in The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

4. Marx, Karl. 1932. “Alienated Labor,” in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

5. Sherman, R. (2007). Class acts. Berkeley, Calif: Univ. of California Press.Weber, Max. 1946. “Bureaucracy,” in Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Edited by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

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