• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

Dying is a social as well as physiological phenomenon. Each society characterizes and, consequently, treats death and dying in its own individual ways—ways that differ markedly. These particular patterns of death and dying engender modal cultural responses, and such institutionalized behavior has familiar, economical, educational, religious, and political implications. The Handbook of Death and Dying takes stock of the vast literature in the field.

Life Insurance as Social Exchange Mechanism
Life insurance as social exchange mechanism

In a discussion of “insurance and the law,” Baker (2001) writes that insurance per se is considered a “formal mechanism for sharing the costs of misfortune” (p. 7588). In casting the conceptualization of insurance in this manner, Baker distinguishes insurance into four categories: technologies, institutions, forms, and visions. Such categories are useful for illustrating the general variety of insurance-related activities, but for purposes of this discussion the fourth category, visions, is most useful for establishing a basic conceptualization of life insurance as a social exchange mechanism.

Visions are inclusive of each of the other three categories. In the first instance, as Baker (2001) notes, technologies enhance our understanding as to the risk involved. Thus “insurance, ...

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