Conceptualizing grief sociologically
Sociological Institute University of Zurich Zurich, Switzerland
Grief is a fairly uncharted territory in the field of the sociology of emotions worthy of closer scrutiny. Grief has mostly been known to be a neglected theoretical and empirical object of sociological research. It is due time to establish grief as a topic of the sociology of emotions and to confront the narrow psychological conception of grief. The dominant theoretical perspectives on grief derive from psychology and psychiatry. They focus on the individual responses to the loss of a significant other, rather than on the social and structural context in which grief occurs. The psychological literature deals with the symptoms and consequences of grief more than theorizing grief as an emotion. In the medical model, grief resembles an illness from which one should recover ("grief as a disease" vs. "grief as an emotion"). On the contrary, from a sociological point of view, grief is defined as a social phenomenon, because it emerges from relationships, attachments, expectations, and obligations (see Charmaz/Milligan 2006). Furthermore, there is a missing link between general sociological theories of emotions and the phenomenon of grief: "Grief plays a limited role in general sociological theories of emotions" (Charmaz/Milligan 2006: 517). My aim is to relocate "grief" as a topic of the sociology of emotions and to discuss the contribution of general sociological theories of emotions for the explanation and understanding of grief. For example, from the perspective of symbolic interactionism, the loss of a significant other means a loss or crisis of the self. Grief can be interpreted as a new construction of the self and everyday life. Other concepts focus attention on grief as an emotional role ("grief role") and the importance of feeling rules and the normative regulation of emotions (Fowlkes 1990, Hochschild 1983).