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date: 15 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article explores the cultural features of death and dying. Following a broad discussion of death as a problem—materially, socially, and existentially—to which diverse responses have been developed historically and cross-culturally, the concept of culture is defined and explored in terms of the way it has been taken up in the practice of medicine more generally and in discussions about death in particular. Arguing that the “problem of death” in America has increasingly come to be identified as a “problem of culture,” the article takes two classic ethnographies of dying in American hospitals—spaced forty years apart—as a strategic comparative lens through which to examine how key cultural features of death and dying have (and have not) shifted over a particularly critical period in the history of US health care.

Keywords: culture, hospitals, ethnographies, health care, death, dying

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