The Sociology of Law
Online ISSN : 2424-1423
Print ISSN : 0437-6161
ISSN-L : 0437-6161
"Social Death" and Law
Atsushi Sawai
Author information

2005 Volume 2005 Issue 62 Pages 110-122,194


In arguments concerning death and its definition, the social aspect of death, which is beyond the range of natural sciences such as biology and medicine, has often been referred to. The purpose of this paper is to consider this social aspect of death by re-examining the concept of "social death."
First, this paper looks into existing usages of the concept of social death and attempts to clarify its meaning. Social death is distinguished from biological death, clinical death, legal death and ritual death. This paper suggests that the defining feature of social death is the termination of one's social existence in the lives of others.
Secondly, the relationship between modern social changes and the changing profile of death is considered from the point of view of social death. In contrast to traditional society, social death in modern society has become individualized and can be interpreted in various ways. In cases of the death of persons who are non-intimately related, the process of social death tends to move comparatively quickly, and may sometimes move more rapidly than the process of biological death. On the other hand, in cases of the death of persons who are intimately related, the process of social death moves comparatively slowly and may continue for a long time following biological death. It is pointed out that this discrepancy between the two cases can often poses problems.
Finally, the social background of legal death is examined in the light of social death. There are discrepancies between legal death and social death, which pose problems. In many cases, there are "continuing bonds" between the bereaved family and the dead which still exist even after biological death. The paper concludes with an examination of legal professionals' attitudes toward these continuing bonds.

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