Funeral Fieldwork Information

    Over the past few days I have contacted several funeral homes around Sydney.  Asking about the possibility of doing a study of the company.  Most were quite positive, actually only one sounded hesitant.  Many even thought it was a good idea and sounded interested.  However, they were not able to give authority or even comment on the likelihood.  They said it would be brought up to the correct people and they would call me back.

    While this has only been a few days none have called back.  Unfortunate, but very understandable.  It is not an easy decision to make for a funeral home.  I do not expect many replies soon.  I also expect most will say 'no'.

    So I've decided to help make this decision easier.  In this post I write about what my 'study' would involve, my aims and so on.

    If I have not contacted your funeral home do not take this personally or as a sign of my disinterest.  There are simply too many funeral homes to contact them all.  I have started with the ones I know off the top of my head and/or are very easy to find on the internet and/or have been recommended by others in the industry.  If you are part of a funeral home I have not contacted but are interested, then email me!  I am keen to study any and all funeral homes equally.

    I am not just interested in funeral homes, although they are my main focus for now.  Some other groups I am interested in are: cemeteries, crematoriums, coffin manufacturers, transfer companies, hire car companies (who focus on funerals) and so on.  Basically anything or anyone who works in the funeral industry.

    But what about my 'study'?  It is fairly rare for someone to ask to do an "anthropological/sociological study of a funeral home" and not many are quite sure what this means.  Below I outline everything my study would involve, from my aims and rational to my method and perspective.  I also provide an example of a study I did at Lady Anne Funerals.

    Quite simply the aim is to get a feel for the industry and companies who operate within it.  I will be doing honours next year and studying the funeral industry.  So I want to get a solid understanding of things before I start.

    I have found the funeral industry to be thick with paranoia and secrecy.  Many are fearful, believing if the public finds out "too much" that it will cause negative press and do damage.  However my (preliminary) research would indicate the opposite.  Many outside the industry have distrusting or neutral views of the funeral industry.  Vagueness and secrecy on the funeral home's part is is often misinterpreted as very negative, thinking that the funeral home must have something to hide.  So far I am finding that the most damaging thing to the funeral industry image is not the details or descriptions, it is the vagueness and secrecy.

    Hopefully through these series of studies I can develop a better understanding of the industry, and at the same time reduce the secrecy somewhat.

    There are two important parts to this section.  The first is to do with the industry, as in privacy and decency style of things.  Ethical concerns regarding privacy (of staff, deceased and mourners) is high on the list for funeral homes.  Revealing the identity of a deceased without consent could be quite bad.  This should not be an issue with me as I have a very strick rule regarding identity and personal information.  I refuse to publish, or even record in my private notes, any names or personal details.  Even if they give consent, I still refuse.

    The second part of the ethical concerns is to do with publication and representation.  I am not a part of any group.  This is for my personal knowledge, the only 'organisation' I am part of in this regards is this blog.  Furthermore anything I find now cannot be used in my thesis work next year.  To use anything, even the smallest thing, would have my whole thesis work thrown out.  This means everything I find this year is 'off the record'.

    Ethical concerns for funeral homes is very important.  I will abide by any specific rules or desires about what I can and cannot do.

    With regards to photos I never take pictures of people, be they alive or dead.  The only time I take pictures of people is in public crowds, and even then I avoid faces.

    Any and all photos I take can be used by anyone.  I insist on people not 'owning' the photos I take, so others can use them and learn from them.  If this is an issue, as in a funeral home does not want others to use pictures, then I will not take photos.  I respect the funerals company to keep things private.

    Again, if the funeral home is uncomfortable with the idea of me publishing a post about my study then I won't.  I might study the funeral home, but I will not write about it on my blog if they so wish.  If they do allow me to publish my study I will send it to the funeral home a few days in advance.  So they can check it over and raise any issues they might have before it goes public.

    My method is rather simple and informal.  I observe the place, as in watch what happens, how staff do things, the procedures in place, attitudes of the company and so on.  I also chat with staff, casually, no interviews.

    After this is done I then survey the local area.  Asking people what they know of the funeral home, if they know anything at all.  This survey is not very reliable, I only ask a few people and very informally.  But it gives me a rough idea of the funeral home's standing in the local community.

    Everything on this blog is honest, nothing is exaggerated or avoided.  For better or worse I write things as I see them (if it is relevant to the topic at hand).  The only time I deliberately avoid things is in regards to privacy and confidentiality.

    The ethical issues and concerns listed do not have an impact on my research.  They are things I would follow regardless, and do not influence anything.  Avoiding certain photos, not publishing everything I learn and so on does not change the outcome.  As such ethical issues and concerns listed do not factor into my reasoning or results.

    Through basic observation and casual discussion I get a better understanding of how the company works and thinks.  I have found that formal methods (such as interviews) do not work well with the funeral industry.  Rather a more causal approach gets to the reality of things.

    Between observation, discussion and the surveys I develop a reasonable understanding of and feel for the funeral home in a short time.  This makes describing funeral homes easier and more reliable.  It also makes it easier to know which funeral home to study for which concept.  The information I find should also be of some use to the funeral home.  letting them understand and account for how others perceive them, in both the community and industry.

    Recently lady Anne Funerals let me do a study of their funeral home for a day.  You can read it in detail here.  With it you can see exactly what I look at and how.  Also you can see how I write about my study on the blog.  Just keep in mind that each post would be different for each funeral home.  Tailored to the individual company and study.

What's in it for you?
    This is a reasonable question.  I am going to spend the day (or more) studying the company and get a lot from it.  So you should get something out of it to, it's only fair after all.

    One of the main things is that I offer free press, the study will be published on this blog (if allowed) along with the company's contact information.  My study can be used as an example or explanation of how the company operates, to help with the company image.  A company could use my study to alleviate any misconceptions or incorrect concerns.  Plus I will be able to properly incorporate the company into future work.  This means there is short-term and long-term exposure for the funeral home.  Take the Lady Anne study as an example of exposure, that one post has had 84 views in under a week (and is growing).  Plus I have plans to write about them more in the future.

    The other thing is that I am happy to give away all photos I take.  The company can use my photos in their own advertisements and promotions at no charge or worry of copyright.  But possibly the mosat useful thing is my survey of the local area.  While the survey might not be completely accurate it can be a useful indicator of how the locals view the funeral home.

    This is essentially what I aim to do and how.  If you are interested or have questions then please email me (theothersideoffunerals@gmail.com).  If you work at a funeral home but are not 'high' in the company then perhaps let the boss know about this post and my study.

    I am not just interested in funeral homes, although they are my main focus for now.  Some other groups I am interested in are: cemeteries, crematoriums, coffin manufacturers, transfer companies, hire car companies (who focus on funerals) and so on.  Basically anything or anyone who works in the funeral industry.


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