Death and Grief in Working-Class Communities: Narratives of Recently Bereaved Carers

  • Stephanie Mulrine

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The sociology of death, dying and bereavement has sought to understand how social divisions, including gender and ethnicity, impact at the end-of-life and into subsequent bereavement. Despite the prevalence of epidemiological evidence indicating continuing health inequalities and a higher mortality rate for those from working class communities, this area has hitherto received little attention (Howarth, 2007b). This research seeks to address the dearth in understanding of the experience of end-of-life and bereavement in disadvantaged and working-class communities by undertaking a series of narrative interviews with bereaved carers in Teesside, UK. The findings illustrate that end-of-life and grief are complicated by many care, familial and non-death issues. These issues are not simply personal troubles but must be understood in a broader societal and cultural context in which bereaved carers have to respond to both overt (e.g. intervention by mental health care workers) and tacit (e.g. limitations for which grief is acceptably performed) social expectations about ‘doing grief’.
Findings from interviews suggest a desire for ‘normal’ bereavement, however this was frustrated by complex circumstances (unemployment, criminality, mental health issues, substance misuse) and a perception that grief required justification against a prevailing, neo-liberal discourse of grief being shameful (Peacock, Bissell and Owen, 2014b), and an expectation that achieving acceptance and ‘moving on’ was required. These struggles make explicit a latent power struggle, which results in those whose social position is comparatively lower experiencing more difficulties in resisting perceived stigma and shame, based on their difference from healthcare professionals, and cultural beliefs and choices in bereavement. The narratives given by participants give examples of societal internalised oppression (symbolic violence), causing distress but also instances of resistance. The comparative absence of similar experiences of more affluent members in the sample, suggests that this hardship points to social class, shame and stigma being a determining factor at end-of-life and into subsequent bereavement.
Date of AwardFeb 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorPeter Van Der Graaf (Supervisor), Paul Crawshaw (Supervisor) & Peter Van Der Graaf (Supervisor)

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