The Moral Economy of Death in the 19th Century: A Comparative Study of France and England

The Cemetery as a Political Space
By Pascale Trompette, Robert Howell Griffiths

This article examines how, in the nineteenth century, the issue of burials became, in France as in England, the subject of a political discussion which prompts a major transformation in the economy of death. First, this study describes its emergence as a “public concern”, leading to the invention of new institutional forms concerning funerals and cemeteries. Closely attentive to the debate’s arguments and principles of legitimacy, the analysis takes into account the way in which this institutional construction is moved in both countries by similar considerations: the question of the relationship between public powers and the Churches in the treatment of death, the invention of political and social systems to engage with the social issue of poverty, the construction of the legitimacy of private industry as a committed actor in the funeral economy. The article shows that the distance between French and English conceptions, which could hastily be reduced to a feature of the binary polarisation of public monopoly and free market, in fact reveals a much subtler differentiation, reflecting distinctive forms of co-regulation between public authorities, Churches, entrepreneurs and civil society in the implementation of a moral economy around funerals.


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