Exploring how narrative is and can be used to make sense and meaning of death, dying and grief in late modern society

Projekt: Nätverk

Beskrivning

Advanced Study Group (ASG) at the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies

Populärvetenskaplig beskrivning

Bauman once wrote that “problems are defined by having solutions” and death does not have one. If death is not a problem, then it is a mystery; and as Marcel argues, one should not try to solve a mystery, but instead commune with it. One way to commune with the numinous nature of both death and grief is through narrative and storytelling. Narrative is a cultural process that, in the words of Roland Barthes, is “simply there, like life itself.” Stories and narratives are sense-making mechanisms, wherein sequencing of events creates meaning by either the laws of cause and effect, or those of association. Narratives and stories are also powerful tools which can be used to negotiate how society relates to death, dying and grief. They are not only ad hoc interpretations of experiences—stories are also the means by which these experiences develop. This ASG seeks to pursue a better interdisciplinary understanding of how narrative forms can be used to negotiate experiences of death, dying and grief. Additionally, how illness narratives and storytelling can be used to promote better well-being for dying patients and their families.

Today, in the growing absence of religious narrative and cultural tradition in Western societies, medicine has been given both medical and social responsibility over death, dying and grief. As medicine has become the primary storyteller of these experiences, a focus on cure and containment predominates in the care of the dying—through pharmaceuticals, or consumption, or professional management. As a result, modern modes of death, dying and grief are often described as “lonely” or “invisible” because they have become privatised and institutionalised. There is therefore a growing need to work and commune with diverse narratives of death, dying and grief today in order to broaden possibilities for better and more humane experiences at the end of life.

In a rapidly ageing, secular social landscape, there is an urgency to understand how we create meaning out of death, dying and grief. More people are dying later, from protracted disease and illness, with less rituals and texts to answer to uncertainties. Indeed, old age and illness invoke fear and stigma today in new ways. Indeed, although we are saturated in violent media depictions of death, the personal reality of dying remains a social taboo. In social contexts which seek to muffle and even obscure stories of decline and death, it becomes more imperative for care-takers and researchers alike to locate the voices of the ageing, ill, and bereaved; and seek to understand the intricacies and points of conflict in these narratives. As Arthur Frank has put it, the infirm and ill are injured in both body and voice, and it is only through reclamation of their experiences through narrative can they recover the voice which treatment often takes away.

Between medicine, social science, and humanities, we hope to locate and explore diverse rituals, artefacts and texts which tell stories and give meaning to these experiences. Examples of a rituals, artefacts or texts could be a wide range of things such as a burial ceremony, memorial and/or support sites on internet, a section of fans honoring a respected player, a motorcycle funerary cortege or a picture on the wall. Death is also found in popular culture, such as television series, literature, pop music. A text is here understood as a basis for construction of meaning, an artefact is a text in material form, a ritual is a practice that construct meaning. Running through all these examples is the presence of narrative.

From this vantage point, we will explore some central themes:
I. Subjectivity of the old, ill and/or dying person and their families.
II. The role of fear in modern relationships to death.
III. Modes of resistance, remembrance, and acceptance of death.

The vision of the ASG is to 1) begin to systematically assess and build knowledge about modern narratives of death, dying and grief, and 2) attempt to expound upon the usability of narrative in social transformation (including “compassionate societies” and death literacy).
Kort titelExploring Narratives of Death
Akronym(The) END
StatusEj startat
Gällande start-/slutdatum2019/09/012020/06/26

Samarbetspartner

  • Lunds universitet (ansvarig)
  • The Pufendorf Institute Study Group on Narratives of Death Dying and Grief

Participants