Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 32

DEATH ONLINE

RESEARCH SYMPOSIUM

-BOOK OF ABSTRACTS-

17th-18th August 2015


Death Online Research Network
Kingston University London

DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES OF COMMUNICATION CONSTITUTE


INCREASINGLY OMNIPRESENT TECHNOLOGIES OF LIFE
AS WELL AS DEATH THAT STRUCTURE CONTEMPORARY
FORMS OF SOCIABILITY, FLOWS OF AFFECT AND
MEANING-MAKING.

THE MEETING WILL EXPLORE HOW WE INVEST


DEATH-RELATED PRACTICES WITH MEANING IN
DIGITAL CONVERGENT MEDIA, SOCIAL MEDIA ARTIFACTS
AND NETWORKS WITH A FOCUS ON FAMILIAR, RECONFIGURED
AND EMERGENT TYPES OF CONTENT, CONTEXTS, NEW (MASS
MEDIA) AUDIENCES, USAGE PATTERNS, AND EMBODIED
FORMS OF EXPERIENCE AND EXPRESSION.

In order to establish a strong research network and


thus influence the field of research, the following
goals are articulated:

Death Online Research is a network of international


researchers with a background primarily in the
Humanities, Social Sciences and Law studies
interested in the study of how dying, death and the
afterlife is mediated and expressed online.
This includes research into memorial sites online;
new ways of grieving though social media; the use
of mobile technologies in graveyards; the digital
afterlife and peoples digital legacy; as well
as a variety of other perspectives on the impact
digital technology has on everyday practices in
the context of death. The network was initiated by
Stine Gotved, and the first assembly took place in
January 2013 at the IT University of Copenhagen,
Denmark, co-funded with Aarhus University, Aarhus,
Denmark.
The network statement from our first meeting is
unchanged:
When an increasingly large part of life, from the
most intimate to the most officious is manifest
online, it should be of no surprise that death
is there as well. We are able to relate to death
online in different ways, e.g., before and after an
actual physical death, or in more metaphorical ways
within online forums, gaming environments and so on.
Alongside the social media conversations, we have
sites for mourning and remembrance as well as for
legal advice, casket sale and funeral service. As
the median age of the internet population continues
to go up, matters connected to the physical death
will have increasing importance. However the case,
managing the death online involves interesting
elements of identity performing, social bonding,
legal matters, and business opportunities.

To gather the sparse work already done in the


area

To support the necessary interdisciplinarity in


dealing with death online

To support a digital platform for network


communication and text sharing

To have subgroups cooperate on projects, papers,


panels, and publications

To arrange physical seminars to encourage


knowledge sharing and cooperation.

Between events, the network interacts mostly on the


online collaboration platform Podio. Contact Prof.
Stine Gotved (gotved AT itu.dk) to become member of
the Podio network. Please be aware that the network
is for people involved in some kind of academic
research; right now we are not open to, e.g.,
journalists, authors, or digital entrepreneurs.

In this paper we analyze how bereaved parents make


use of various media-strategies on online memorial
sites and on childrens graves when performing
processes of grief and commemoration for their
stillborns and infants, and how these processes are
not just linked to one particular media but take
place across media.

HETEROTOPIC RELATIONS
BETWEEN MEDIA AND
MATERIALITY
IN CHILDRENS ONLINE
MEMORIALS AND ON
CHILDRENS GRAVES

We show how the death of an infant can lead to


mediation, remediation and mediatization strategies
which involves both the uses and arrangement of
objects on memorial pages and on childrens graves
as well as uses of new social technologies, that
produce, negotiate and develop social relations,
belonging and coherence that are both individual
and relational and that are made possible by
ritually establishing online memorials and graves
as heterotopic interfaces that opens certain
communicational flows and accesses specific
communicative spaces concerning most prominently
the ongoing relations with the dead child and the
(re)negotiation of parenthood.
We understand media as a function of an object
reflected in human practices and embedded and
structured by the different materialities they are
intertwined with. We argue that the use of media
and materiality online and on the graves are, in
various ways, a remediation of everyday parental
practices and we demonstrate how such practices
and relations are structured in some basic social
matrices of how to perform parenthood, both in
relation to the dead child and in relation to
achieving social appreciation of the missing child
and the role as being parents even when the child
has died.

Dorthe Refslund Christensen


Aarhus University, Denmark
Kjetil Sandvik
University of Copenhagen, Denmark

SOCIAL MEDIA
AND THE ENGLISH DEATH

Daniel Miller
University College London, UK

My study in an English village found a surprising


amount of loneliness and isolation amongst hospice
patients. I argue this is not because of the decline
in English sociality, the problem is English
sociality. One of the results of our study is a
definition of social media. As it happens this is
especially important in the English context because
the prior dualism between public broadcasting and
private chat corresponded closely to the traditions
of English sociality which also tended to split
between being friendly in public while defending
the sanctity of the private home. Social media has
radically changed this from a duality of media to
what we call scalable sociality which can bridge
between the private and the public through the
group. I look at the implications this has for
hospice patients both now and in the future. Partly
through the stories of two particular patients and
their use of Facebook, which amongst other things,
revealed how a mirror selfie can be extraordinarily
profound.

We are increasingly living out aspects of our lives


digitally. But what happens when we die? In this
keynote, Ill explain what I mean by a digital
life, comparing it with physical and social
human lifespans. Ill explore the reasons why
it is so difficult to completely terminate your
digital life, before describing the options for a
continuing presence after physical death, both in
the memories of others and as a rather more active,
even vocal, digital entity. The material is based
on a chapter in the forthcoming book, which also
features contributions by Will Self and AS Byatt:

LIVING DIGITALLY

Wendy Moncur
University of Dundee, Scotland, UK

Wendy Moncur. Forthcoming. Living Digitally. In


Memory in the Twenty-first Century: Critical
Perspectives from the Sciences and Arts and
Humanities, Sebastian Groes (ed.). Palgrave
Macmillan.

(RE)MEDIATING DEATH AND


BEREAVEMENT ONLINE

Session Chair: Stacey Pitsillides


University of Greenwich

adolescents and adults. Extending the analysis,


this investigation of digitally mediated grieving
and memorializing goes one-step further.
The research questions are:

ONLINE EMOTION
REGULATION: WHY THE
KIND OF LOSS DOES (NOT)
MATTER IN COPING IN
ONLINE BEREAVEMENT
Katrin Dveling
University of Leipzig

In todays digitalized global village (McLuhan


1964) online communication garnishes a vast amount
of information, opinions and attitudes, at the same
time yielding considerable potential for emotional
(ex)change. Online bereavement platforms provide
opportunities for emotional communication within
a group of like-minded, yet anonymous grievers.
The domain of online-bereavement still leaves many
questions unanswered. Not only young adolescent
mourners, who are familiar with the many options
social network sites offer, use the internet to
share their emotions (Rim et al. 1991), but in a
digital era, all age groups can be part of virtual
interaction processes (Dveling 2014).
Bereavement as a deeply socially embedded process
is closely related to a multitude of emotions. In
this vein, previous research discloses that online
sharing engenders transformational emotional
regulation (Gross 2008), which incorporates
empathic interactions (Dveling 2014). Emotion
regulation patterns disclosed similarities as well
as differences in online bereavement of children,

1. Does online grief depend on the kind of loss?


Does this type of loss (bereaved parents grieving
over the loss of their child; bereaved children
suffering the loss of a parent; widows grieving
over losing a spouse) engender different forms of
emotion regulation processes?
2. Does age or gender matter as much as presumed?
3. If so, what forms of emotion regulation come
into play?
From 2014-2015, four different bereavement
platforms, addressing different kinds of
mourners, were examined qualitatively as well as
quantitatively in a two-step content analysis (N
postings = 1028), generating insight into onlineshared grieving processes. The findings reveal
differences and similarities in interactive
communication patterns. Motives and meaning
structures in online emotion regulation are
unveiled. Implications and suggestions for further
research in this highly relevant media psychological
domain are explicated.

BUILT AND RECEIVED


IDENTITIES IN VIRTUAL
MEMORIALS
Anna Haverinen
University of Turku

The action of creating an online memorial is a


ritualized act of remembering and honoring, which
consists of symbolism concerning the relationship
between the deceased and the bereaved as well as
their community and other extended social networks.
What is particular about official memorial
websites compared to other online memorials
is their constructed nature, where they resemble
traditional burial sites the most. The websites
do not only reflect the social relation between
the deceased and the creator of the memorial, but
also the relationship between the individual and
society. Since all memorials are always subjective
constructions of identities, highlighting specific
aspects of their personalities, gender and social
and cultural status, the memorials can often even
be almost like caricatures highlighting only one
or a few aspects of the individual. Through their
constructed nature, they are also representations
of culture, ideology and religion and reflect
a specific time in history. They become social
narratives of a socially contextualized individual
(Wu 2010, 130). In this presentation I will discuss
the notions of built and received identities when
creating a memorial website. Identity as a concept
is used in this presentation as something a person
is or wishes to be in the eyes of others (see
e.g. Ricoeur 1991; Cohen 1993; Hall 1999; Bauman

2004), but also, in this case, how the deceased is


perceived by others through the memorial website.
I will use two case examples from my PhD work
(Haverinen 2014), conducted in 2007-2014, where
I analyzed the way memorial websites portray the
identity and the life of the deceased, the way
the memorial creator perceived the identity of the
deceased, how the personal taste of the bereaved is
displayed on the memorial visually and, finally,
the options the website providers provide to the
users in customization and personal layouts. The
memorial websites were analyzed using narrative
identity theory (Ricoeur 1991; see also de Mul
2005), where the focus is on the life narratives of
the bereaved and the deceased.

BEREAVED PARENTS ONLINE


GRIEF COMMUNITIES: DETABOOING PRACTICES OR
GRIEF-GHETTOS?
Ylva Hrd af Segerstad
Gothenburg University
Dick Kasperowski
Gothenburg University
Kjetil Sandvik
University of Copenhagen
Dorthe Refslund Christensen
Aarhus University

The death of a child is a near taboo subject in


most contemporary societies. This limits bereaved
parents means for coping with their loss. However,
with the introduction of social media, this has
changed. In this paper, we present preliminary
results from case studies of a number of different
types of Danish and Swedish online grief communities
for bereaved parents. The main differences between
these communities are related to the conditions
for participation and sharing: open or closed,
moderated or non-moderated communities. The main
questions focus on how development of practices and
norms for grieving and mourning online are related
to the particular conditions for participation. The
different types of grief communities under study
are a closed and an open group on Facebook, an
open dedicated memorial website and open discussion

groups such as Libero/Pampers etc. We aim at


analyzing which kinds of practices are performed and
shared in the different forums and how norms and
traditions are performed, challenged and negotiated
in the various formats. Furthermore, we discuss how
these practices are related to dominant ideas of
grief in society as such, for instance, in relation
to intensity, length etc. Do these practices lead
to a softening of prejudices against mourners,
i.e. de-tabooing the loss of a child, or do they
lead to new biases and misconceptions as displayed
in popular media, casting them as grief-ghettos?
Finally, we want to reflect on the unique character
of these different kinds of empirical material in
the study of parental grief work.

WE DO IT TO KEEP
HIM ALIVE: THE USE
OF FACEBOOK IN THE
AFTERMATH OF A SUICIDE
Jo Bell & Louis Bailey
University of Hull

Facebook is a place to share and connect with family


and friends online. Increasingly, for many it is
also a place to remember and honour the deceased,
including those who have died by suicide. When
a person passes away, their Facebook account can
become a memorial and digital legacy of their life,
experiences, personality and friendships. This
paper presents findings from recent qualitative
research in the UK which focuses on the online
memorialisation of those who have died by suicide.
It draws on data from ten individuals who have
experience of creating and maintaining Facebook
sites dedicated to the memory of loved ones a
child, a sibling or a friend - who have died by
suicide.
Data indicated that Facebook enables the deceased
to be an on-going active presence in the lives of
the bereaved, with many examples of participants
saying that they continue to communicate with the
deceased via their Facebook accounts as if they
were still alive. Our presentation explores the
various ways in which Facebook has been used in the
aftermath of a suicide and highlights the frequency
of communication, what sentiments are expressed and
how activity changes over time. In this paper we
discuss the potential of Facebook as an avenue for

digital afterlife and the generation of post-mortem


identity. We look at the ways in which Facebook
transforms human mortality providing new ways for
people to experience, negotiate and represent death
by suicide and stay connected the deceased.
is or wishes to be in the eyes of others (see e.g.
Ricoeur 1991; Cohen 1993; Hall 1999; Bauman

MOURNING IN BITS AND


STONE: UNDERSTANDING THE
MATERIALITY, SPATIALITY
AND TEMPORALITY OF
DIGITALLY AUGMENTED
MEMORIAL SITES
Jakob Sabra & H.J. Andersen
Aalborg University

We mourn our dead, publicly and privately, online


and offline. Cemeteries, web memorials and social
network sites make up parts of todays intricately
weaved and interrelated network of death, grief
and memorialization practices [1][5]. Whether
cut in stone or made of bits, graves, cemeteries,
memorials, monuments, websites and social networking
services (SNS) all are alterable, controllable and
adaptive.
They represent a certain rationale contrary to
the emotive state of mourning (e.g. gravesites
function as both spaces of internment and places
of spiritual and emotional recollection). Following
this theoretical offset the study proposes an
alternative and nuanced discourse on the interplay
of novel media technologies in relation to their
perceived impact on materiality/rationality and
incorporeal/emotional states in mourning and
remembrance processes. We argue that novel media
technologies bridge the divide between states
of rationale and states of sentiment and

augment the loop of exchanges between the two. We


switch interdependently between these states by a
seemingly coincidental structure, when subjected to
involuntary memories or episodic reminders afforded
by trigger parameters such as space, artifacts,
situations or sensuous representations. In this
paper we build upon present research on grief and
proposal a methodological contribution to the study
of progressions of digital mourning and remembrance
practices. We present a generalized structure of
online mourning and memorialization by discussing
the publicly and privately digital and social death
from a spatial, temporal, physical and digital
angle. Further, the paper will reflect on how
to encompass shifting trends and technologies in
traditional spaces of mourning and remembrance.

TECHNOLOGICAL
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE
DEATH INDUSTRY

Session Chair: Anna Haverinen


University of Turku

THE LIVING DEAD?


THE AUGMENTATION OF
GRAVEYARDS, MEMORIALS
AND MONUMENTS
Philip Wane
Nottingham Trent University

This research examines the potential of Augmented


Reality (AR) applications to enhance the experience
of visitors to cemeteries and other memorials. AR
allows users to overlay an augmented reality image
onto a physical object when viewed through a mobile
phone. AR applications, unlike some over other
approaches, do not require any physical additions
to existing physical artefacts and the technology
permits a multiplicity of interactions, for
instance a family member might view one image and a
member of the general public might view another.
The technology can be applied to both family
headstones and historic monuments or markers of
interest such as war memorials and the English
Heritage Blue Plaques scheme (http://www.englishheritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/). The author
has successfully used augmented reality in situ
with both family headstones and war memorials. The
author began to investigate AR following the death
of his own parents at separate times in 2009. The
modest cremation headstone seemed insufficient (but
was all that was permitted) so the idea of using
an AR application to allow family members to see
without having to physically change the headstone
was compelling.

This presentation would build upon a presentation


at the first Death Online Research Symposium
(see clip from that event: https://youtu.be/
JNfYaAPYjoI?t=1m38s). The session would include
(new) live demonstrations of AR in action. Since
the first symposium the author has developed strong
ties between the technology and the sociology
of death and remembrance, including sociological
concepts of aura (MacIntryre, Bolter & Gandy,
2004; Atherton & Morgan, 2011), pluralisation of
the function of monuments (Atherton & Morgan 2011;
Niven, 2008) and contested spaces (Castells, 2006;
De Certeau 1984, Urry 2007).

DESIGNING FOR FUTURE


LOSS: NEW DIGITAL
MEMORIALS IN DENMARK
Stine Gotved
IT University of Copenhagen

The traditions and rituals around a physical death


are changing due to the ubiquitous state of digital
communication technology. The dying as well as the
relatives hold a number of new choices regarding
the rituals connected to the remaining life, the
funeral, the legacy, and the process of mourning
the loss. This project is primarily related to the
latter and centers around a business initiative to
construct a new Danish memorial platform. Currently,
there are few options of Danish memorial platforms
for the descendants to choose between. There is an
early web solution for memorials in general (mindet.
dk, with about 1600 active memorials) and a small
score of more specialized sites for the loss of for
example infants or siblings. As Haverinen (2014)
points out, the differences in national mourning
cultures make the big US based memorial platforms
unsettling places for other nationalities; from
the symbol design to the default language it is
unfamiliar territory. The actions and rituals
connected to death and mourning are embedded
in longheld national traditions, religious and
otherwise, and the design of a digital memorial
platform is thus a challenge also in relation to
cultural knowledge and sensitive design. The
platform and the connected research are works
in progress, and the research design span three
perspectives: 1) users & experiences, 2) techo-

ethical issues, and 3) changes in ritual practices.


This way, the research project will cover the micro
level (the new memorials test pilots and first
movers), the meso level (practical and theoretical
challenges posed by the intersection between digital
technology, traditions, and sensitive issues) and
the macro level (the digital transformation of
national death culture). My presentation at the
second symposium will give a status on the actual
platform development, share experiences about
the construction of the research project, and
explore possibilities for transcending the national
perspective.
--------------------------------------------------Join the co-creation of a new digital memorial
Get a sneak peek at our prototype for a next
generation digital memorial, developed in Denmark
2014-2015 through extensive involvement of potential
users and relevant experts. The digital memorial
is designed for the need of remembrance and sharing
among those left behind, and aims to enable a rich
and co-constructed narrative of the deceased.
We are happy to share this with you - drop by our
stand and join the work in progress.
Katharina Sture Kristensen & Nana Scheibel
Hoej.dk
---------------------------------------------------

By designating online account custodians, the user


ensures the preservation of the sentimental value
of his digital data and virtual legacy.
For more information please visit our website -

BOARDING A NEW JOURNEY


Moran Zur
SafeBeyond

Throughout our lives we mark the passage of time


with significant life events such as birthdays,
graduations and weddings. While a person can predict
where and when these future events will take place
with relative certainty, he cannot guarantee that
he himself will have the chance to attend.
The digital inheritance market is fragmented. With
so much of our lives being lived online, digital
inheritance has become a complex issue, especially
since the average person has multiple on-line
accounts. Once a person passes away, various hurdles
arise, including those with respect to privacy and
intellectual property rights regarding the persons
on-line data.
SafeBeyond simplifies the complexity, process and
management of digital media inheritance and virtual
legacy for data heirs. SafeBeyond provides a unique
and user friendly platform for the management and
distribution of a users digital data and virtual
legacy after he passes away. With SafeBeyond,
a user can guarantee that his words of wisdom,
encouragement, and love will fill the void left
by his absence at the moments and places they are
needed most. The platform aims to empower multiple
beneficiaries, not only the user by preserving and
delivering the users messages with pre-selected
recipients at the time or place of future life
events. This ensures the users virtual legacy
and presence long after his passing. Importantly,
the platform enables the user to predetermine what
will happen to his digital data, and how his online foot print will be handled by his loved ones.

www.safebeyond.com

1984

1984

DIGITAL DEATH AND US:


WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE?

1984

1984

1984

Vered Shavit
Independent Researcher and DigitalDust Blogger

1984

1984

1984

1984

1984

1984

1984

1984

1984

1984

1984

2. An active audience-participation-based
roundtable session aimed at sharing existing
solutions and suggesting new ones (30 minutes).

In 2013 an online survey titled What Shall We Leave


Behind? was held, regarding the digital legacy we
and our loved ones shall leave behind. Some of its
results were presented in a paper titled Online
Legacies: Online Service Providers and the Public
a Clear Gap (2014, Tzezana & Shavit). The paper
focused on the current gap as portrayed through
the results of this survey between the wishes of
families of modern deceased to gain access to their
beloved ones online legacy posthumously and the
websites, platforms and online service providers
policies and practices in this regard.
The unique opportunity of DORS 2015: Death Online
researchers and experts of various disciplines
gathered together at the same time and place
could be used for sharing ideas and knowledge.
A brainstorming regarding what more can be done?
- practically and in all sectors: business,
governmental, private, non-profit: raising
awareness, finding solutions, creating a change.
In the previous symposium Astrid Waagstein shared
a Danish solution in her presentation which was
un-known to most of the attendees and curiosity
arises towards the possible outcomes of the next
symposium.
The suggested format is:
1. An oral presentation by Vered (Rose) Shavit (15
minutes):
a. Detailing existing Digital Death issues,
difficulties and dealings, including a presentation
of some of the results of the survey and paper.
b. Presenting existing solutions.
c. Presenting ideas for future solutions.

3. A clear conclusion of this brainstormings


outcomes, hopefully providing all symposium
participants with ideas that they can take home,
and perhaps utilise to bring the wings of change to
their various communities and countries of origin
(15 minutes).

PRACTICES OF DEATH,
DYING AND MOURNING
ONLINE

Session Chair: Korina Giaxoglou


Kingston University London

1984

1984

DISCUSSING DEATH AND


DYING ON FACEBOOK WHILE
WATCHING THE VIRTUAL
WAKE OF A STRANGER

NETWORKED EMPATHY
AND THE ART OF DYING.
BLOGGING WITH, AND
ABOUT, CANCER

Andria Martins
University of Bath

Yvonne Andersson
Stockholm University

This paper aims to show the main interactions


between users of a Brazilian Facebook group that
often use the viewing of Virtual Wakes of strangers
to discuss death and dying. The Virtual Wake is
the real-time streaming of the period of 12 to 24
hours the family normally spends with the body
before burying or cremating it, and is an extremely
important part of the Brazilian death rituals,
interpreted as the last chance to say goodbye to
a loved one. The Virtual Wake is now a thriving
business for the funerary companies and consists
in placing a camera in the rooms where the regular
wake happens. The online community, called Dead
people profiles is a space dedicated to listing
the profiles and causes of death of Facebook users,
similar to an obituary, and today has more than
thirteen thousand members. Their points of view and
general community interactions were analyzed during
participant observation and private interviews in
2013 as part of a Nethnography work for a Masters
Thesis in Anthropology, introducing this less
explored feature of virtuality as a possibility to
deal with death and dying.

In media debate the blogosphere, especially diary


blogs, is sometimes criticized for contributing
to the superficiality of society as the subjects
discussed in blogs tend to be rather trivial, such
as trends in fashion, food and home decoration. In
social media research Miller has argued that blogs
have shifted from providing substantive texts and
dialogue to pathic exchange with the only purpose
to maintain connections (Miller, 2008: 393). Blogs
have therefor become parts of a rising pathic media
culture characterized by individualization, pure
relationships (Giddens, 1992) and commodification
of information and social relations (Miller, 2008).
This presentation however, will describe
blogs written by terminally ill persons and
discuss how these offer new opportunities for
communication about existential experiences as
well as opportunities for people to approach their
existential (in)security (Lagerkvist 2013) through
exchanging empathy in a networked society (Lvheim
2012). This ongoing research both draws on and
moves beyond Zygmunt Baumans (1992) theory of the
rationalization of death in modern society. It does
so by adding Lvheims (2012) theory of empathic
communication a communication between bloggers

and readers where the value and forms of empathy


and mutuality are collectively maintained and
transformed balancing the pathic media culture
found and described elsewhere in Internet research
and at the same time providing insights into, what
Seneca calls, the art of dying in the 2010s.

UN-CONTROLLED PRESENCE:
POST-MORTEM DIGITAL
INTERACTION
Paula Kiel
London School of Economics & Political Science

Throughout modernity, the social construction of


death was characterised by a tension: on the one
hand a desire to eliminate and remove death from
everyday life, while on the other, a continuous
and ever-lingering presence of the deceased in
daily life. In between these conflicting desires,
communication technologies have repeatedly triggered
fantasies of dismantling boundaries between death
and everyday life.
Most recently, digital platforms such as www.
deadsoci.al, www.lifenaut.com and www.livesn.org
open up new possibilities of post-mortem forms
of interaction that potentially allow an active
participation of the dead in users everyday lives
through digital media. For example, by allowing the
dead to send emails, post on social networking
sites and even engage in conversations. In
so doing, these platforms arguably challenge
conceptions of death as stillness, and the
association of the dead with silence and absence.
In this paper, a concept of controlled presence
is suggested for studying death in our current
moment and conceptualising its distinctive
characteristics. For this end, the paper examines
post-mortem interaction websites as a site in which
social meanings of death and the dead are formed,

negotiated and modified in contemporary Western


cultures. Employing a multi-modal analysis of
websites dedicated to post-mortem interaction, this
study explores the characteristics of practices of
post-mortem digital interaction, and highlights the
changing constructions of death from an excluded and
confined experience to one which can be potentially
embedded within everyday life. This paper argues
that practices of post-mortem digital interaction
are potentially reshaping the content, materiality
and temporality of contemporary practices of
controlling and managing the presence of death,
deadness and the dead.

#RIPROBINWILLIAMS
DIGITAL MEMORIALS AS
MEDIATORS OF A LIVED
LIFE
Anu Harju
Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki,
Finland

We live in times of affect economy. Death brings us


together through mediated participation in online
mourning rituals (Sumiala, 2013) where belonging
is achieved through emotional identification
with distant others. Mediated rituals have the
capacity to evocate a sense of communal belonging
(Pantti & Sumiala, 2009; Couldry, Livingstone &
Markham, 2007). Exploring social media as mediated
public space (Couldry, 2012), the study focuses
on the meanings assigned to the lives of deceased
celebrities. Combining a social constructionist
approach (Berger & Luckmann 1991/1966; Gergen 1997,
2009) with systemic functional linguistics (SFL)
analysis (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004; Martin
& Rose, 2003), this study examines how a lived
life is (co)constructed in online memorising and
embedded in digital memorials.
Actor Robin Williams died in August 2014, and
Philip Seymour Hoffman in February the same year.
Celebrity death disrupts normality, peaking also
in social media. Perhaps due to the untimeliness
of most famous deaths, they remind people of what
really matters. This study looks at what kinds of
meanings are assigned to the lives lived and lost,
how celebrities gain meaning in and by death as

these meanings are discursively and collectively


constructed in social media and anchored in digital
memorials. The study extends our understanding
on, first, how digital memorials come to mean, and
second, the role of online memorising in a sense
of belonging. Analysis is carried out using the
analytical framework provided by SFL (Halliday &
Matthiessen, 2004; Martin, 2004). The empirical
material consists of YouTube memorial videos as well
as #RIPRobinWilliams and #RIPPhilipSeymourHoffman
tweets. The results suggest meanings originate
from the lives and needs of the mourning audience
more than the actual lives of the celebrities,
suggesting that digital memorials, while having a
collective function, also harbour deeply personal
meanings.post-mortem interaction websites as a site
in which social meanings of death and the dead are
formed,

A DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGY:
NAVIGATING THE POSTMORTEM
Ariana Mouyiaris
Independent researcher

If to live and to die are abstract, existential


questions, the digital remnants and artifacts of
a life become increasingly present reminders and
spaces for the post-mortem exploration of loved ones
and friends. How is this new territory accessed,
mediated, manipulated and, ultimately, understood?
In the wake of my brothers premature death last
November, these issues along with a plethora
of legal, moral, bureaucratic obstacles arose.
Questions of access, passwords, privacy, public
memorializing, sociopathic manipulations of truth
and relationships became increasingly amplified and
exposed in the public domain. Usage of social media
platforms, in particular Instagram and Facebook, as
a means of reaching networks to inform and share
expressions of the deceased became primary tools
and sites for emotional and digital exchange.
In a society that seeks to keep death on the
margins, uncomfortable with accepting and creating
rituals to integrate it more fully into the
psychology of life, how can the digital allow for a
more considered, reflective and positive movement
towards catharsis and collective mourning: to create
an (in)tangible space for the digital afterlife?
This paper seeks to explore an increasingly relevant
domain in post-materialist studies and contemporary

mourning. Ultimately, what holds meaning and how


are memories constructed and reconstructed based
on shared digital repositories? How does ones kin
preserve and archive the documents, correspondence,
photographs and media (whether music via soundcloud
or email accounts) once notifying digital providers
of ones death?
What are the services that should be offered to help
access and trace the activity in the run up to the
loss? If there are unresolved details and questions
surrounding the death, what new services can
arise to help piece together the digital evidence
proceeding and surrounding trauma whether for
preliminary/pre-criminal investigation or personal
grieving? I will largely focus the paper on primary
evidence and experience and draw on wider academic
and intellectual writings, such as Derridas The
Work of Mourning, Socrates and Epicurus.

REMAINS IN THE SYSTEM:


RECOUNTING THE LIVES OF
DATA IN MOURNING
Selina Ellis Gray
Lancaster University

What happens if we think about our digital legacies,


not as a static collection of data that people
abandon in death, but as a mass of remains that
live on within a range of digital networks? This
question has underpinned my doctoral research and
methodological approach, prompting the development
of a PhD, which looks towards what Remains in
the System. In this doctoral study I engaged
in a multi-sited ethnography online in order to
empirically follow the lives of data across a
three year period. These observations of data
included a range of photographs, status updates,
videos, poems, audio files, biographical accounts
and so forth, from their early inception, through
to their decay.
In this presentation I want to recount core findings
from a chapter called: When Loss Remains, which
overviews a 25 year history of mourning online. The
work begins in 1990 and outlines the first known
example of death online, accounts of mourning and
the issue of data within a Virtual Community. I
will then discuss the early practices of loss that
transitioned onto the World Wide Web and developed
within the first free user generated sites in the
mid 1990s. Moving to reveal a multitude of sites
which are still active 18 years after they first
emerged.

Finally I discuss the transition of data from


these first user generated sites onto contemporary
social networks in order to give an insight into
the diversity of practices online. Accounting for
the lives of data amongst a historical frame of
mourning online, will not only bring a different
perspective to the issue of digital legacy, but
also, prompts us to think about the materiality of
data. How it can persist, become entangled or lost
in unexpected and surprising ways.

ERASURE AND THE DATAFIED


SELF
Audrey Samson
City University of Hong Kong

The following research is concerned with what kind


of role the materiality of Internet technologies
plays in post-mortem digital legacy (also called
digital death), and how digital data bleeds into
our mourning practices. It explores these questions
by examining how Facebook and Google deal with
digital death, and what kind of consequences the
materiality of the network entails. The notions
of materiality are understood here as a space
of interaction between code and hardware (Hayles
2005) and perceived materialisation of phenomena
iteratively configured by dynamics of intraactions (Barad 2007). In the examples considered
I look at how terms of conditions apply to memory
in the form of externalised tertiary retention in
the process of grammatization (Stiegler, 2012).
I also consider how the technical infrastructure
and code of these frameworks contribute to what
Wendy Chuns calls undead media (Chun, 2011),
and therefore how the persistence of media affects
how we remember. The research also looks at the
biological human memorys materiality and its need
to forget (Kirschenbaum, 2008). Ultimately I propose
digital data funerals as an artistic strategy to
make data tangible and to explore how these layers
of stockpiled data constantly re-configure our
identities. Digital data funerals offer a symbolic
gesture that draws attention to the materiality of
data through tangible and physical degradation, in
an attempt to surpass post-mortem datafication, and
surveillance.

THE MEDIA END: THE


DIGITAL AFTERLIFE
AND THE ENDING OF SOCIAL
MEDIA-CONTOURS OF OUR
DIGITAL THROWNNESS
Amanda Langkvist
Stockholm University

In reiterating the nitty-gritty of a classic article


in death studies by Tony Walter Sociologists never
die (1992), one may propose that for media studies
proper, there is no proper end. Due to its limited
modernist and rational foundations, death itself
has only recently become focused in the field, and
remains marginal (McIlwain 2005; Hirdman et al
2012; Sumiala 2013).
For a certain strand of media studies improper
on the other hand there is nothing but the end, as
it is preoccupied with posthuman fictionalizations
of a fossilized media future, and a memory of
our civilisation, after we have died out (Parikka
2014). Suspending these alternatives, this paper
launches an existential approach and argues that
the digital has become a cultural form wherein we
face endings, death, as well as phenomena of the
digital afterlife. These entail our fundamental
thrownness (Heidegger 1927) through those defining
and eternal limit-situations (Jaspers 1932)
that have assumed a partially different shape in
digital culture. Much attention has been paid to
online memorialization in the death online context

(Brubaker et al 2010, 2013, Moreman ed. 2014, Gotvid


& Refslund-Christensen eds. 2014). A less discussed
countertendency is the prevailing need of closure
and ending of social media. In zooming in on two
contrasting cases: the market rhetoric of a digital
afterlife actant, and the invisible market strategy
of a company that offers the service to entirely end
the social media life of the dead, I will sketch out
the contours of our digital thrownness (Lagerkvist
forthcoming) and how it, despite or because of our
posthuman condition, both demands our agency and
triggers a register of affective engagement.
This will result in a typology of the digital
afterlife, and in an outline of key features of
its structure of feeling, entailing 1) meaningful
memorialization and the quest for existential
security 2) a spooky intermediary realm of reflex
bodily engagement and affect (cf. Frosh 2015) 3)
a space of temporal crisis of returnings and of
the enduring ephemeral (Chun 2010) and 4) a space
managerial reasoning (Bauman 1992) 5) and finally
a case of re-enchantment at play, even in the most
unlikely of places in the posthuman archive.
make data tangible and to explore how these layers
of stockpiled data constantly re-configure our
identities. Digital data funerals offer a symbolic
gesture that draws attention to the materiality of
data through tangible and physical degradation, in
an attempt to surpass post-mortem datafication, and
surveillance.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN
INTERACTIVE LEARNING
TOOL ON DIGITAL REMAINS
FOR THE BEREAVEMENT
SUPPORT COMMUNITY
Mrna O Connor
University of Nottingham

ON SHOW

The last decade has seen an explosion in the use of


digital tools and the internet as mediators of all
aspects of life. The online publication of personal
content, the storage of personal data online and on
digital tools, and the use of digital technologies
in every facet of modern life mean that individuals
are now creating vast digital footprints that span
entire lifetimes. In the wake of a death, these
digital remains can represent sources of great
interest and value to the bereaved.
Digital content relating to the deceased is now
playing a role in mourning, bringing related
challenges for professionals who support the
bereaved. This paper reports on the development
of an interactive, online learning tool (Reusable
Learning Object or RLO) on the topic of digital
remains, aimed at raising awareness of the issue
amongst the bereavement support community. Using
established RLO-development methodology, the
tool was co-developed by representatives from
bereavement support organisations, a lay expert in
digital-era mourning, death studies academics and a
learning technologist. Through an iterative process

of co-design and peer review, the tool has been


developed to reflect the expertise and values of
these interdisciplinary stakeholders.
The tool has the objectives of: highlighting amongst
the bereavement support community the extent of and
challenges posed by digital remains; raising the
profile of this issue as a prominent, complex and
burgeoning area of required support; and encouraging
proactivity and kindling interest about the issue
amongst by the bereavement support community.
The bereavement support agencies involved in codeveloping the tool will integrate it into staff
training and disseminate it via their professional
links and conferences. This is the first in a
suite of three such tools aimed at supporting the
bereavement support community in more ably guiding
the bereaved through new and changing bereavement
contexts.make data tangible and to explore how
these layers of stockpiled data constantly reconfigure our identities. Digital data funerals
offer a symbolic gesture that draws attention to the
materiality of data through tangible and physical
degradation, in an attempt to surpass post-mortem
datafication, and surveillance.

MEDIUMSHIP/COMMUNICATING
Tal Alperstein and Maayan Boni
Independent Artists

Our collaborative performance is a cellular-virtual


seance ritual, where we call many kinds of presence.
Living, dead, real, fiction, near and far, all are
invited to take part. During the show, we invite
different figures, dead or alive, to communicate
with us. In this ritual, the audience are welcome
to leave their cell-phones on, and share any sms or
incoming call. These become part of the seance.
We as performers become mediums, haunted by the
figures we invite. In this performance piece, we
raise new questions of presence. Live presence, in
the history of performance art, is a main issue
within the art piece. In performance art today
the question of live presence should be raised
again, as we can be virtually present as well.
The time perspective changes as we jump from past
to present. The identity also shifts as we wear
other characters- virtual or material.The work
refers technology in the context of metaphysics and
mysticism. We found a humorous connection between
the spiritual concept of the New Age, and the
3G cellphones.
The idea of technology as a manifestation of a
superpower accompanied our growing up into a world,
where technology lost its charm and became a
conventional everyday routine. In this performance
we use again our little piece of technology, our
cellphones, as magical instruments. YouTube, Tinder,
Google and Facebook all take part in creating
a gathering of entities. We improvise in each
performance and call to presence, in many ways,

those who are not with us. We communicated with


Maayans father, who is alive but didnt come to
the performance and Tals dead grandmother; we gave
a call to a friend and tried to reach dead Franz
Kafka. The audience used our powers to initiate
their own calls. The work was first performed
at Zaz international performance art festival
and was later invited by Print Screen, Israels
International Digital Culture Festival.

FLYING LAND
Susana Gmez Larraaga
Independent Artist

The notions of identity and space are constantly


evolving with the appearance of new media,
technology has caused a disruption in the self,
as identity lives beyond natural time and space.
There is a gap between the physical and the virtual
existence. Flying Land explores the boundaries
of virtual and physical presence through the
lens of self-identity and digital technology.
Ideas of reproduction, repetition and simulation
are embedded in the historical and contemporary
contexts of printmaking are taken to another level
through notions of the hyperreal, in the spatial
and temporal exploration of a futuristic landscape.
In the film a flying 3D body spins restlessly over
a hybrid land, it seems like an echo. Nature, old
machinery and virtual human debris coexist in this
vision, the ruin and the sublime. It is almost an
animation of a post-apocalyptic future, human kind
is gone and the only remains left of our existence
are these holograms floating in the space alongside
some machines.

THIEVES AND SWINDLERS


ARE NOT ALLOWED IN
PARADISE
Jasmine Johnson
Independent Artist

In the 9 minute video, THIEVES AND SWINDLERS ARE


NOT ALLOWED IN PARADISE, a camera pans impossibly
smoothly from a computer screen through the
uninhabited but active central Moscow office of a
collector of naive art and a campaigner for life
extension. Outside the window, stands The Church
of Christ the Saviour, where we are informed Pussy
Riot protested. The anthropological tools of the
artist - sound recorder and headphones, notebook
andpens, sit amongst high end furniture and glassy
finishes, hinting at the means of production. The
walls are festooned with paintings including those
by the utopian nave artist Pavel Leonov, who
himself referred to his paintings as rooms or film
sets.
The jarring perfection becomes identifiably digital,
and moments of synchronicity between a disembodied
voiceover and image fix an otherwise outwardly
expanding narrative. We see an intricately rendered
wood floor and hear that you can spot an imitation
artwork because it has a lack of heart. Collecting
becomes synonymous with the realm of digital
images, capturing every detail becomes fastidious,
but also lifeless. The visibly oppressive economic,
political and social power structures weigh heavily
against the dissident qualities of activism and
the outsider. Then we cut to a handheld camera in

the riverside home of a British collector where the


rural Russian paintings have a different resonance.
As the edit and framing of the monologue moves from
propaganda, through news broadcast to radio play,
context shows itself to be vitally important in the
telling of stories. The video has been screened in
Russia as part of the Moscow International Biennale
for Young Art and has been selected for the New
Contemporaries touring exhibition this year. If
you think there could be a place for this work in
the next conference I would love to be a part of
it. Another artist that I would want to point you
towards is Lucy Beech whose recent work deals with
the subject of death, but focusses more on the
kinds of performance that can surround death and
the funeral industry itself.

DR KORINA GIAXOGLOU
Dr Korina Giaxoglou is Senior Lecturer in English
Language and Communication at the Department of
Linguistics and Languages of Kingston University
London. Her research lies at the interface of
linguistic anthropology, sociocultural linguistics
and the sociolinguistics of narrative with a
special interest in verbal art poetics, discourse
entextualization, narratives of loss and mourning
and digital sharing practices. Her PhD thesis
forges an analytical framework for the study of
lament as narrative, while her current research
focuses on discourse practices of mourning in social
media, digital stories of grief and the politics of
hashtag mourning. Her work has been published in
Special Issues of peer-reviewed journals, including
Pragmatics, Thanatos, New Review of Hypermedia and
Multimedia and Discourse, Context and Media. She
is currently writing a monograph on Narratives of
Loss.
Contact details:
Korina.Giaxoglou@kingston.ac.uk
@anthrostream

STACEY PITSILLIDES
Stacey Pitsillides is a PhD candidate in Design at
Goldsmiths, University of London. Her PhD topic
considers creative responses to the digital archive
framed through the question of what happens to
our data after we die? (For further information on
this please see www.digitaldeath.eu). Her research
interests include Digital Death, Digital Identity
and Memory, Collaboration, Personal Archiving
and Digital Heritage. She is also a Lecturer in
Design in the Creative Professions and Digital
Arts Department at the University of Greenwich,
a freelance writer/ consultant for Stromatolite
Design Research Lab and has been the co-facilitator
of three unconference events discussing issues of
death and digitality.
Contact details:
S.O.Pitsillides@greenwich.ac.uk
@RestInPixels

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Special thanks to:
Stine Gotved, founder of the International Death
Online Research Network for her unfailing support
and enthusiasm in this years symposium organisation
Lucy Williams, Marketing & Events Officer,
Kingston University London for her invaluable
assistance in the organization of this conference
Hannah Brown, Alyssa Hurtig, and Magdaleine
Mbonimana, students in Linguistics & Languages, for
volunteering their time as conference assistants.
SafeBeyond for sponsoring the conference
reception
Kingston University, the School of Humanities
and the Department of Linguistics & Languages for
hosting the symposium

DEATH ONLINE RESEACH


-An International Research Network-