Grief and deceased-related digital culture: An exploratory, longitudinal, qualitative inquiry

O'Connor, Mórna N. (2021) Grief and deceased-related digital culture: An exploratory, longitudinal, qualitative inquiry. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis is about the diverse digital material produced in the course of contemporary lives, and the role of this material for those who mourn these lives. To study this, I applied three fundamental principles of grief theory and research to this novel empirical terrain. The result is an exploratory, longitudinal, qualitative exploration of grief and deceased-related digital material in the experiences of thirty-two survivors, constellated around eleven cases of digital-age death.

I found that unique and changing arrays of deceased-related digital material were significant to each survivor, even those grieving the same person. I interpreted four orientations toward this unique and changing digital material across all thirty-two bereaved participants, irrespective of death connection. Then, by steeping these orientations in the context of the study’s key case: eighteen people grieving the accidental death of one woman over time, I established that survivors’ orientations toward digital material were produced within, and inextricable from, the relationships, times and contexts of this dynamic, complex and living grief ecology.

Based on these findings, I proposed an emergent grounded theory called ‘Pliable realities-in-relation’, describing grief with respect to deceased-related digital material as social construction, where digital material is creatively deployed by situated, interpretive and communicative grievers to fortify shifting grief realities.

These findings (i) advance contemporary postmodern grief theories to the digital case, (ii) challenge conceptual treatments of digital material’s grief role; and (iii) exemplify the importance of applying established grief concepts and methods to this new, yet related, scholarly terrain.

This work’s larger original contribution is that identifies that long-debunked, problematic notions about grief are reviving in the digital age. My findings stand as a counter to this revival, demonstrating the fundamental incompatibility of these dead grief concepts with digital-age grieving, and how we conceptualise and study it.

This research has application for digital-age grief scholars particularly, grief scholars generally, and grief therapy practitioners who, on the basis of these findings, I urge to combat the reanimation of these dead grief concepts in their scholarship and practice. This work also provides a much-needed counter-narrative about digital-age grieving for the general public, and it feeds into the policies, terms and designs of arguably the most powerful players in the modern grief environment: technologies aimed at digital-age grievers. The findings of this doctoral thesis have potentially far-reaching ecological impacts, and application not only for the digitally-mediated grief contexts of the present, but those yet to come.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Pollock, Kristian
Wharrad, Heather
Caswell, Glenys
Keywords: technology, grief, digital, online, grief stages, dead grief concepts, grief norms, bereavement, mourning, digital age
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social sciences > HM Sociology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Health Sciences
Item ID: 65837
Depositing User: O'Connor, Mórna
Date Deposited: 31 Dec 2021 04:40
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2021 04:40

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