Working with death: an oral history of funeral directing in late twentieth-century Scotland

Elaine W. McFarland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The late twentieth century was a period of profound change in death culture, reflecting falling death rates and the rationalisation of death and disposal. This article investigates the experiences of funeral undertakers, a profession who have been in the front line of these changes, but whose working lives have tended to remain hidden from public view. Based on a series of interviews with smaller, independent firms, the study considers the impact of internal change in the funeral business, including attempts at professionalisation and specialisation. It also examines the contribution of broader external forces, such as the medicalisation and secularisation of death. An underlying issue is the funeral director’s attempt at role renegotiation against the background of increased bureaucratisation and rising consumer demands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-69
Number of pages12
JournalOral History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008



  • history
  • death culture
  • professionalisation
  • funeral directors

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