Crossroads: An interdisciplinary study of funeral directors in Indiana

Aubrey Thamann, Purdue University


This work is an ethnographic study of funeral directors in Indiana, focusing on the social role they play. Funeral directors, through performances as director and actor, with their living tableaux and focus on the life of the deceased individual, rather than his or her death, offer us the illusion of a modern American ideal—a society with no death. In the face of a great loss, we are reminded how much we depend upon others, which runs contrary to the traditional American concept of the individual. Individualism is so important to us that our funerary ritual, in place for the living, has become a showcase of the deceased’s personality, rather than centering on the needs of the bereaved. An effect of this is that we then struggle to achieve a much needed, visceral connection with our fellow mourners. The funeral director offers us the much needed, shared experience of collective grief in the funeral. And through his production of the funeral, he maintains social solidarity with us by making death the outsider, the ultimate Other. In this way, we are more easily able to process the loss of a loved one without losing our sense of individuality.




Buckser, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American studies|Cultural anthropology

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