The emergence of new forms of dying in contemporary societies

Glennys Howarth

in Death, Dying, and Social Differences

Second edition

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199599295
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731532 | DOI:
The emergence of new forms of dying in contemporary societies

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This chapter focuses on the social aspects of dying and the way in which these have changed across historical periods in Western societies. It begins with an examination of dying as a social relationship and explores how the experience or understanding of dying has changed across time and within different communities. The turn from religious to medical authority is considered within a discussion of changing mores, ars moriendi, and expectations about the nature and timing of the ‘good death’. There is a discussion of physical illnesses and diseases that leads to death in previous periods followed by an examination of more contemporary forms of dying. Here, following the progress of public health reforms and medical technology, the significance of the change from acute infectious diseases to more chronic disabling illnesses is highlighted, together with the impact this has on dying in modern societies. The final section sets the discussion in the context of Kellehear's (2007) theory of the social ages of dying and considers dying in contemporary societies, highlighting popular expectations and choices — a major distinction between dying in previous era and dying today.

Keywords: social aspects; death; social relationship; physical illness; public health reforms; medical technology; social ages

Chapter.  6218 words. 

Subjects: Palliative Medicine

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