Obituaries and the rule of genealogical proximity
Department of Sociology University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland
The aim is to explore family formation through the rule of genealogical proximity and by grounding the analysis on obituaries as the data. Obituaries correspond with other familial assemblages, which, while getting family members and kinfolk together, work visibly at boundary maintenance and reaffirming unity. Assembling in obituaries is of a special kind; it does not occur face-to-face but under names and kin categories, as they are marked on the lists of mourners. The data consist of 1490 obituaries, published in Helsingin Sanomat, a Finnish newspaper with the widest readership in Finland, on Saturdays and Sundays, August - December 2008. Kin categories were unravelled for 59 percent of the obituaries. The ranking orders of the mourner lists are thought to give evidence of the rules that more generally organize family formation in its making. The findings derived from the data show that at a general level and most commonly, the surviving are ranked in accord with genealogical proximity, but the stands reserved for spouses witness that this rule is modified by another rule which invites people to perform family-wise in obituaries. However, the family of origin and the family of procreation are discerned from other families and individual relatives; obituaries organize the relationship between these two major families and revive the family of origin. In addition, obituaries reveal that the mourners also perform as an entity, sometimes extensive, sometimes the lists of mourners are short, but they nevertheless indicate the remnants of what used to be called clan. Death unites intermittently and obituaries are too mute to tell about how warm or cool or cold the relationships of mourners actually are, but obituaries are nevertheless rich in information about the logics of family formation and maintenance.