The Social Distribution of Sentiments

  • Lindsay Prior


In 1915 Freud wrote an essay on mourning and melancholia in which he attempted, among other things, to draw distinctions between normal and pathological grief.1 Three years earlier Durkheim had published his Elementary Forms of the Religious Life in which, by way of illustrating the nature of ‘piacular’ rites, he described a violent, bloody and altogether intemperate scene of grief which was drawn from the world of the Warramunga. Durkheim disarmingly described the latter as ‘guided by etiquette’, though it is clear that its propriety was solely premised on the social context in which it occurred. In other words, the way in which ‘normal’ grief was expressed was variable and as far as Durkheim was concerned, ‘Mourning is not a natural movement of private feelings wounded by a cruel loss; it is a duty imposed by the group. One weeps, not simply because one is sad, but because one is forced to weep’ (1968:568).2 Consequently, both the intensity and the substantive detail of publicly expressed grief was subject to social pressure. This argument of Durkheim’s, that grief and mourning are socially patterned, had itself been preceded some six years earlier by Hertz’s claim that grief is distributed and redistributed according to social principles.3


Public Declaration Social Personality Public Expression Social Distribution Funerary Ritual 
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Copyright information

© Lindsay Prior 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lindsay Prior
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of UlsterJordanstownUK

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