Death comes to all humans, but how death is managed, symbolised and experienced varies widely, not only between individuals but also between groups. What then shapes how a society manages death, dying and bereavement today? Are all modern countries similar? How important are culture, the physical environment, national histories, national laws and institutions, and globalization? This is the first book to look at how all these different factors shape death and dying in the modern world. Written by an internationally renowned scholar in death studies, and drawing on examples from around the world, including the UK, USA, China and Japan, The Netherlands, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. This book investigates how key factors such as money, communication technologies, the family, religion, and war, interact in complex ways to shape people’s experiences of dying and grief. Essential reading for students, researchers and professionals across sociology, anthropology, social work and healthcare, and for anyone who wants to understand how countries around the world manage death and dying.
Chapter 3: Commodification
Life: Costed or Sacred?
Modernity has created two kinds of human life. On the one hand, capitalism has fostered an economic calculus in which lives can be used by business and/or the state, a calculus in which life itself is costed. Some early nineteenth-century plantation owners calculated that it was cheaper to work a slave to an early death and then buy a new one than to treat each slave well – slaves were literally commodities. After the 2008 financial crash, neo-liberal governments cut health care spending – knowing that it would lead to extra deaths. Yesterdays’ slave owners and today’s policy-makers may or may not wrestle with the ethics of this costing of human life.
At a more everyday level, capitalism accelerated the move ...