Dying Professions: Exploring Emotion Management among Doctors and Funeral Directors

Molly Ryan


There are few more emotive experiences in life than death. Drawing on Arlie Hochschild’s concept of emotional labour, this article compares the emotional responsibilities of two groups of death professionals: doctors and funeral directors. It addresses the lack of comparative studies in the otherwise robust literature concerning emotional labour in the workforce. Through qualitative analysis, I identify how funeral directors and doctors believe they should feel in regard to death, how they manage these feelings, and the related consequences of this emotional labour. This analysis suggests that the emotion management of these professionals is primarily influenced by two key factors: prioritizing the emotions of others and stifling one’s own strong emotions. Differences became apparent in terms of how these factors are managed and what the related emotional consequences may be, due to the respective reliance of the funeral directors on surface acting and the doctors on deep acting emotion management strategies. In the future, it would be helpful to complement existing research with participant observation studies in order to better illuminate the meaning that emotional labour has for individuals in practice. Due to their unique position of encountering death as part of a job, death professionals have much to teach each other, as well as the broader population, about accepting and managing emotions related to mortality.


emotional labour; death attitudes; emotion management; surface acting; deep acting

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15273/jue.v9i1.8884


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The JUE is a peer-reviewed online journal that publishes original ethnographic research by undergraduates working in a variety of disciplines. Submissions are welcomed. Contact the Editor, Karen McGarry.

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