Experts of the ordinary: Bereavement Counselling in Britain

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Counselling is of increasing importance in British society. Yet, very few detailed ethnographic descriptions exist of how it works in practice. This article focuses on training courses with the national bereavement care organization, Cruse. The discussion revolves around Cruse’s conception of grief as a natural and ordinary process, yet individually variable and unique, and its client-centred approach, which attributes ‘expert’ status to clients. Consideration of the ‘ordinary’ and ‘expert’ in Cruse ideology suggests fundamental questions: how does Cruse justify its counselling activity? How does it train and motivate people to carry out counselling? I argue that this is achieved by grounding the sense of grief in the trainees themselves through a process of situated learning that allows the trainees to assume expertise of the ordinary. Addressing the work of counselling theoretically, I argue that, while Foucauldian analysis of the psy-sciences is to some extent applicable to counselling, detailed participant observation reveals complexities in the interplay of subjectivity and subjection that the Foucauldian approach is unable to grasp.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-713
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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