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The most effective way to analyze the work done in funeral homes would be to conduct an ethnography as well as an interview. Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis emphasizes that there are both internal and external roles that we play in our lives and our work. An ethnography will be useful in first-handedly seeing how the workers interact with their coworkers and customers, or what their externalized role is, and interviews will be used to determine how workers handle a job where they are required to deal with death on a daily basis, as this is something that is not observable.
By conducting an ethnography, I would have insight as to how the workers interact with their customers. I would particularly observe one worker each day of the week for a month, observing their interactions with customers as well as coworkers. I would do this at three different funeral homes for a total of three months to complete this research. Since the work funeral home workers are doing is usually at one of the worst times of their customers’ lives, one month at each funeral home would give me enough time to gain consent from enough customers to observe them as well. The in-depth questions I would be trying to answer are: Is there a systematic way that funeral home workers handle each customer? How personal do they have to be with their customers to learn enough about the deceased they are planning a service for? How do they handle dealing with death as their job, and are their coworkers an outlet for them to speak to if handling death becomes too much?
Ethnographies are subject to the Hawthorne Effect, but in funeral home work, you don’t necessarily expect workers to be acting like their true self, since dealing with death is normally not a topic people encounter on a daily basis. Funeral home workers are required to act somewhat unnaturally around their customers: they need to be sympathetic to the customer for their loss, yet be detached enough from the death to perform their job properly and plan the service. When dealing with death in this outwardly removed manner, there is a lot that the workers internalize and take home with them. This is where interviews would come into play. While ethnographies will be useful for me to visually assess worker interactions, an interview is the only way to truly know how workers are feeling and understanding what toll their work is taking on them. By interviewing the workers at the end of the day each day, I would get a sense of how much of their work they internalize and bring home with them. The questions that I would ask them would be: How are you feeling today? What was the most difficult thing you dealt with today? If you have struggled with anything today, how do you plan on dealing with this? These interviews would give me insight into who the workers truly, and allow me to learn their emotions, something I would not gain with an ethnography alone.
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