Late Capital: Negotiating a New American Way of Death
This dissertation examines the recent changes in the production of funerary ritual that have taken place in the United States. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic methods, I examine the case of the American funeral industry to illustrate the ways in which industry participants re-negotiate their roles with respect to the production of funerary goods and services that make up the majority of funeral rituals. However, the characteristics intrinsic to the current era of “late capitalism” create various cultural contradictions that are managed using historically specific strategies. Actors increasingly draw on the trope of amusement to manage the primary cultural contradiction between the demand for increased profits and the demand to honor the dead in an authentic manner. Amusement provides a diversion from the unpleasant qualities that emerge out of these contradictions such as the corporatization of the industry, rationalized labor, and the mass production of funerary merchandise. Amusement and late capitalism share an elective affinity through which capital can continue to expand in a consumer-centric economy.