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Über dieses Buch

Well-established scholars from a variety of disciplines - including sociology, anthropology, media and cultural studies, and political sciences – use the social construction of death and dying to analyse a wide variety of meaning-making practices in societal fields such as ethics, politics, media, medicine and family.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
Humans have a complex — and possibly unique — relation to death, and especially to the awareness of dying; we not only know that we are mortal, but we also know that we know. In other words, we are aware of being aware (Bauman, 1992). It comes as no surprise, then, that death has a long history of being a key ‘thought anchor’. Today, a variety of disciplines from the social sciences and the humanities, such as sociology, philosophy, anthropology and psychology (see for instance the work of Glennys Howarth, Steven Luper, Mary Bradbury and James Green), have a well-established tradition of studying death in all its forms — the study of social characteristics and attitudes towards death, cultural variations in dealing with death and dying, individual experiences with death and dying, and so forth.
Leen Van Brussel, Nico Carpentier

The Social Construction of Death

Frontmatter

1. A Discourse-Theoretical Approach to Death and Dying

Abstract
Death is one of the most pervasive phenomena of the social, and sometimes is described as ‘the only certainty in life’. Death is indeed often considered the ultimate biological essentialism; the moment at which humanity’s obsession with control finds an absolute limit (Giddens, 1991), a view that seems to result in a privileging of realist and materialist approaches over constructivist and idealist treatments. Obviously, the bodily condition labelled death has a materialist dimension; it is an event/proces s that exists and occurs independently of human will, thought, and interpretation. We cannot reduce death to the way it is socially and culturally interpreted, but at the same time death remains loaded with meaning and we cannot detach it from the processes of social construction (Carpentier and Van Brussel, 2012).
Leen Van Brussel

2. Studying Illness and Dying through Constructivist Grounded Theory

Abstract
The sociological study of death and dying and the grounded theory method made a simultaneous debut. Barney G. Glaser and Anselm L. Strauss’s (1965) book, Awareness of Dying, brought death and dying into sociological purview, and put the experience of death and dying on the agenda of grounded theorists. Any review of death and dying through using grounded theory methodology must therefore begin with this study of the social organisation of dying in US hospitals. Glaser and Strauss demonstrated that sociologists could bring new analytic insights to the study of death and dying, thus contributing to both their discipline and professional practice. Subsequently in 1967, the authors published their initial statement of their methods for studying dying, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. This book profoundly influenced the social scientific study of illness, dying, and death, and rapidly spread qualitative methods far beyond the confines of sociology. Glaser and Strauss’s argument in the Discovery book not only answered numerous criticisms of qualitative research but also set forth a new agenda for qualitative inquiry.
Linda Liska Belgrave, Kathy Charmaz

3. Feeling Bodies: Analysing the Unspeakability of Death

Abstract
Hacking (2000) observed that merely claiming that a phenomenon is socially constructed is of relatively little value. More is to be gained, he suggested, by making nuanced claims that identify precisely what is being constructed and which processes are involved. In this chapter we discuss how the meanings of death are socially constructed in language: narratives and discourses arrange its elements in socio-culturally legitimated ways, and regimes of discourse locate death within webs of visibility and power. Simultaneously, we extend this constructionist analysis by showing how the meanings of death are also socially co-constituted through the feeling body. We explain how feelings can be conceptualised, and describe how their dynamics endow speech with an unspeakable flux of meaning that gives it sense and purpose. In contemporary Western cultures death, too, is somewhat unspeakable, and we suggest that a focus on feelings helps render this unspeakability more sensible by showing how its felt elements get enacted in social relations and personal experience. Finally, we illustrate this by briefly presenting some empirical, qualitative research that explores feelings associated with early bereavement.
John Cromby, Adele Phillips

Death in Popular Media

Frontmatter

4. Representations of Corpses in Contemporary Television

Abstract
Before the twenty-first century, crime shows tended to show victims only at the crime scene. With the rise of TV shows like CSI and Six Feet Under, the dead body became a central actor in the plot. Dead bodies were not only at the crime scene now, but also in the morgue, the embalming room and most often in the pathology lab. The dead body — especially when represented in visual media — is now indeed ‘treated as a highly spectacular object, and the dead body at autopsy becomes the most spectacular’ (Klaver, 2006, p. 140). Before the turn of the century there was only one show on TV (Quincy, M.E.) that presented corpses in the pathology lab. These first representations of corpses stand in contrast to the representations in TV shows from 2000 to 2010. This contrast is marked by a shift towards a greater visibility of corpses, which are now far less often obscured. The increasing visibility of corpses on TV is interesting as mass media are to be regarded as key spheres of meaning making, reproducing as well as shaping more encompassing societal conceptions of death. Given that most people have never been within a pathology department or attended autopsies, media images from crime TV shows create a visual experience from which they were previously excluded.
Tina Weber

5. Ladies’ Choice? Requested Death in Film

Abstract
While dramatic representations of death abound in the media (Mcllwain, 2005), more mundane, ‘natural’ deaths are not commonplace, reflecting the media’s preoccupation with events of which people have little to no experience (Chapman and Lupton, 1994), such as violent death (Durkin, 2003). A particular type of ‘unusual’ dying depicted in film has not previously been studied. Despite being one of the most debated practices around contemporary dying, filmic representations of ‘requested death’ (McInerney, 2000), that being the physician-assisted suicide (PAS), euthanasia, or mercy killing1 of individuals, has not been explored.
Fran McInerney

6. The Expertise of Illness: Celebrity Constructions and Public Understandings

Abstract
This chapter explores public responses to mediated constructions of illness and death, and uses celebrity Jade Goody’s highly documented diagnosis and death from cervical cancer during 2009 to examine tensions around ordinary and authentic experiences of illness and dying. Jade Goody found fame in 2002 in the Big Brother house (see Mathijs and Jones, 2004 for a discussion of Big Brother); since leaving, she established a celebrity profile through reality shows, a celebrity column and biographies. On 19 August 2008, whilst inside the Bigg Boss (2008) house Goody was informed of her diagnosis of cervical cancer. This was a highly visible disclosure and has been the focus of significant coverage by academics (Walter, 2008, 2009, 2010; Woodthorpe, 2010; Kavka and West, 2010), health professionals (see Cassidy, 2009), and the popular press. Much popular press coverage focused on the so-called ‘Jade Effect’ of encouraging women to undertake cervical cancer screenings (BBC, 2009; Boseley, 2009; Elliott, 2009; Sinclair, 2009; Sturcke, 2009). Goody’s high-profile ‘battle’ (see Sontag, 1978) with cervical cancer was held to have helped dramatically reverse the downward trend in women going for screening (Sinclair, 2009).
Daniel Ashton

Political and Ethical Dimensions of Death

Frontmatter

7. Death, Fantasy, and the Ethics of Mourning

Abstract
Drawing on discourse theory and psychoanalysis this chapter develops a perspective with which to understand and evaluate phenomena associated with death and loss.1 This perspective takes seriously the basic insight of constructionist approaches to the study of social phenomena, namely, that understanding the dynamics of human practices requires acknowledging the key role that meaning and subjectivity play in their stabilisation and transformation (see, for example, Carpentier and Van Brussel, 2012). The particular social constructionist approach developed in this chapter draws on the categories of discourse and contingency, as well as the category of fantasy, stressing the potentially ethical dimension of practices of mourning.
Jason Glynos

8. Ethics, Killing and Dying: The Discursive Struggle between Ethics of War and Peace Models in the Cypriot Independence War of 1955–1959

Abstract
This chapter aims to deploy a discourse-theoretical framework to better understand the relationship between ethics and death, more particularly in the case of war. War, or armed conflict, is one of the areas of the social where the encounter between death and the ethical is highly complex, because of the strong ethical claims that actors engaged in warfare make in order to legitimate their violent practices. This chapter focuses on one particular area of this encounter between death and the ethical in wartime, and that is the ethicality of killing (and dying) itself. In order to do so, three models will be developed; the legitimisation ethics of war model, the celebratory ethics of war model and the ethics of peace model.
Nico Carpentier

9. On the Deathly Construction of Society

Abstract
It was early spring in the year 2012 that a certain Ingibjörg Stefänsdöttir was interviewed on one of the television stations in Iceland. Ingibjörg1 is not a person of particular fame in Iceland. She is not a political leader, a sports hero or a celebrity say. Hers was not a name or a face that would be immediately recognised widely although as the interview went on, viewers were able to place her in a story they could remember.
Arnar Árnason

‘Governing’ Death and the Dead

Frontmatter

10. From Theft to Donation: Dissection, Organ Donation and Collective Memory

Abstract
Dissection of the human corpse has for a long time been considered abhorrent; a fate worse than death. In a short extract, Helen MacDonald (2006) illustrates the view on dissection as an abominable doom as she describes the public death scenes of executed murderers whose bodies subsequently underwent the post-mortem punishment of dissection to great applause from the crowds who had gathered for the spectacle:
Until 1832, London’s College of Surgeons had been receiving all the bodies of those executed for murder in that city since 1752. These public dissections were crafted social events. Astley Cooper, who carried them out, found that the College’s theatre was constantly crowded, and the applause excessive. Executions, too, were public spectacles that attracted huge and rowdy crowds. They were usually performed at eight o’clock on Monday mornings, following which the body was left dangling at the end of the rope for an hour before being carted to the College’s house. (MacDonald, 2006, p. 13)
Glennys Howarth

Open Access

11. Digital Objects of the Dead: Negotiating Electronic Remains

Abstract
Dominant ideas of the way groups and individuals should respond to a loss are socially constructed, and a number of scholars have pointed out this constructed nature of grief and mourning, suggesting that ‘human response to loss is not genetically determined but culturally learned’ (DeSpelder and Strickland, 1999, p. 96). Doka and Martin (2002, p. 339) emphasise the importance of culture in constructing grief and mourning, arguing that ‘culture affects more than simply the expression of grief’, but also impacts on ‘patterns of attachments, defining the meaning of different losses, influencing who one mourns as well as the intensity of that grief’.
Margaret Gibson

Open Access

12. ‘This In-Between’: How Families Talk about Death in Relation to Severe Brain Injury and Disorders of Consciousness

Abstract
These comments encapsulate some common themes in how people describe having a severely brain-injured relative in a coma-like condition, medically known as a ‘disorder of consciousness’. In the past it was highly unusual for such individuals to survive very long after the initial trauma that caused their injury. However, the emergence of modern medical technologies, and how they are deployed, has led to the creation of new long-term conditions including the ‘vegetative state’ (in which the patient shows no awareness at all) and the ‘minimally conscious state’ (in which the the patient displays some intermittent and minimal awareness). These conditions are modern phenomena — the vegetative diagnostic category was first created in the early 1970s (Jennett and Plum, 1972) and the ‘minimally conscious state’ [MCS] was only defined in 2002 (Giacino et al., 2002). Patients with disorders of consciousness disrupt previous ways of understanding life. The family may experience their vegetative or minimally conscious relative as ‘present but absent’, ‘living, but dead’, making comments such as ‘this is no life’ and ‘my son is gone’ — and experiencing a sense of loss and grief that may be ‘like a death’, although not a death.
Celia Kitzinger, Jenny Kitzinger

Afterword: The Social Construction of Death: Reflections from a Quantitative Public Health Researcher

Abstract
With this book the editors have envisaged to enrich the research field of thanatology with a social constructionist approach1 to the study and understanding of death and dying. Of course, an approach to death and dying from a social constructionist perspective is not new. But after reading all draft chapters of this edited volume, I can only conclude that I do not know of any work in the field that so systematically and methodically explains and illustrates the positions underlying the social constructionist approach, its meanings and possible applications within the light of death studies, and the necessity of adopting some of its insights and methods to understand (at least some) aspects of death and dying within societies. As such, I believe the editors have potentially greatly contributed to a step forward in the (social) study and interpretation of death and dying. I add ‘potentially’, because I also see a risk that the book may eventually address an audience of (mostly qualitative) social scientists already convinced of the merits of a social constructionist approach; a community sharing — albeit in implicit ways — its paradigm and epistemologies. There is, however, definitely also a need to address quantitative thanatologists, a community that is particularly active in the field of end-of-life care research where scholars above all aim at policy advice and care improvement.
Joachim Cohen

Backmatter

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