Clinical Sociology and Bereavement

  • Sarah Callaway Brabant

In the United States, the origin of thanatology (death, dying, and bereavement) as a discipline can be traced to two time periods and two different foci of interest. Academic and clinical interest in the death and dying components of thanatology emerged in the 1950s as a result of the death awareness movement1 and, from the beginning, has been interdisciplinary. One of the earliest publications in the field, The Meaning of Death by Herman Feifel (1959), was a collection of essays that “encompassed theoretical approaches, cultural studies, and clinical insights” from different disciplines (DeSpelder and Strickland, 2002).

Although in the United States the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) is probably the best known among the pioneers in the death awareness movement, sociologists were major contributors. Talcott Parson’s “Death in American Society” (1963), for instance, focused on the impact of technology on the dying process; Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss (1964) introduced the concept of “awareness contexts” to explain differences and changes in communication with dying patients; and Vanderlyn Pine and Derek L. Phillips (1970) applied sociological insight to functionaries of death, for example, the funeral industry. Robert Fulton not only contributed one of the pioneering books, Death and Identity (1965), but also designed and taught the first formal course in death and dying at an American university.

This chapter examines three critical problems with the psychological model of bereavement and the gradual shifts to a sociological perspective: the bereaved person as social self rather than ego, culture as a milieu rather than a factor, and grief and grief work as deviant/anomic rather than abnormal/pathological. Examples from my clinical practice illustrate the efficacy of the sociological perspective.


Sociological Perspective Complicated Grief Bereave Parent Expression Rule Social Psychological Approach 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Callaway Brabant
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LouisianaLafayetteUSA

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