Accounting for sudden death : a sociological study of the coroner system

Fenwick, John

Sociology; Human services; Medical care; Law; Law enforcement; Prisons
July 1984

Thesis or dissertation

© 1984 John Fenwick. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The study examines the work of the coroner. The thesis is sociological in orientation and method, drawing where necessary from other disciplines, e.g. law, philosophy. The study concentrates upon the nature of coroners' categorisations and the production of the socially recognised 'facts of sudden death'. While detailed consideration is given to the inquest and inquest verdicts, the whole range of coroners' work is examined. Differing but complementary research methods are employed to yield essentially qualitative material. Existing sociological studies, e.g. of 'official statistics' and of suicide, are evaluated. Coroners' methods of ascribing meaning to sudden death are examined. An important aim is to render processes of construction 'visible' for sociological study.Part One (Chapters One and Two) opens with a review of theoretical issues in sociology. The methodology of the study is 'located' within sociological theory. Part One continues with an historical discussion of the office of coroner, and an outline of legislation and formal medico-legal procedure.Part Two (Chapters Three, Four and Five) forms the largest section of the study, consisting of material collected by field research, i.e., interviews with the coroners of five counties, systematic observation of inquests, and unpublished/published statistics. Provisional conclusions are discussed as the study progresses, covering topics which include, inter alia: discretionary authority; the inquest as court of law; the differing perceptions of individual coroners; the relevance of historical factors; the Press; methods of constructing the verdict; the roles of doctors, pathologists and police; social control; official statistics; and historical and geographical statistical variations.Part Three (Chapters Six and Seven) draws overall conclusions about coroners' accounts of sudden death. It places coroners work within bureaucratic and ideological contexts. The work of the coroner is situated in terms of the ways society conceives of and deals with death as a whole.Two short appendices add further statistics and further methodological details.

Department of Social Policy and Professional Studies, The University of Hull
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