Why does funeral attendance matter? Revisiting 'Configurational Eulogies' in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK

Jennifer Riley* (Corresponding Author), Vikki Entwistle, Arnar Arnason, Louise Locock, Rebecca Crozier, Paolo Maccagno, Abi Pattenden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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This paper uses disruption to norms of funeral attendance experienced in the UK during the COVID19 pandemic as a lens to illuminate why and how funeral attendance can matter. It draws on an extensive qualitative dataset, gathered through semi-structured interviews with a diverse sample of 68 individuals who were bereaved and/or worked or volunteered in death care during the COVID-19
pandemic. It first examines interviewees’ concerns about the insufficiency of funerals when gatherings were restricted. Second, it depicts the range of additional and alternative ways people found to pay tribute to the deceased and to offer and seek support when conventional funeral attendance was limited. Third, it explains why, for some, the smaller funerals necessitated by pandemic restrictions were welcome experiences. These findings support a development of Bailey and Walter’s influential theorising concerning ‘configurational eulogies’: while a ‘well-attended’ funeral still matters to many, mourners contribute to configurational eulogies through a diverse and evolving range of activities.
The shifts in funeral gatherings and activities prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic can be understood as part of dynamic processes of reconfiguring eulogistic repertoires in changing social contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
Early online date20 Jun 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Open Access via the Taylor & Francis Agreement

The authors thank Paul Kefford and Imogen Jones and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper.

This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19. Grant number: [ES/V017047/1].


  • Funerals
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Eulogies
  • United Kingdom
  • Funeral attendance


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