Novel research from our PhD student Mórna O'Connor asks: What it is to grieve for someone when you have access to the digital traces of that person's life and your relationship with them?
Title: Grief and deceased-related digital culture: An exploratory, longitudinal, qualitative inquiry
What it is to grieve for someone when you have at your disposal the digital traces of that person’s life, and your relationship to them?
Today, for the first time in history, we are grieving relationships that we have detailed digital records of, and grieving people whose activities and communications with us are chronicled across arrays of digital device and platforms. My doctoral thesis, ‘Grief and deceased-related digital culture: An exploratory, longitudinal, qualitative inquiry’ (pass with no corrections, May 2021) centred on the digital traces that can remain at the end of a contemporary life, and the role these digital remains can play in grief. My findings (i) propose an advancement to postmodern grief theories to the digital case, (ii) challenge existing conceptual treatments of digital material’s grief role; and (iii) exemplify the importance of applying established knowledge about grief, and how to study it, to this new scholarly terrain.
A larger contribution of this work is its identification that long-debunked, harmful ideas about grieving are reviving in the digital age. My findings stand as a counter to this revival, demonstrating their fundamental incompatibility with the experience of digital-age grieving, and how we conceptualise and study it. This work also provides a much-needed counter-narrative about digital-age grieving for the general public, and feeds into the policies, terms and designs of arguably the most powerful players in modern grieving: technologies aimed at grievers. This thesis has potentially far-reaching ecological impacts, and application not only for the digitally entangled grief contexts of the present, but those yet to come.
O'Connor, M. (2020). Posthumous digital material: Does it ‘live on’ in survivors’ accounts of their dead? In M. Savin-Baden & V. Mason-Robbie (Eds.), Digital Afterlife: Death matters in a digital age (pp. 39-56). New York: Chapman and Hall/CRC. https://doi.org/10.1201/9780429322198.
O’Connor, M. & Kasket, E. (2022, in press). What grief isn’t: Dead grief concepts and their digital-age revival. In T. Machin, C. Brownlow, J. Gilmour, & S. Abel (2021), Social Media and Technology Across the Lifespan (Chapter 8). Palgrave Macmillan.
Conference presentations and posters
O’Connor, M. (2018). Preliminary findings of The Digital Memories Study: Exploring how individuals and groups of bereaved people use and experience
the posthumous digital material of their dead over time. Death Online Research Symposium, University of Hull, U.K., 15-17 August.
O’Connor, M. (2017). Preliminary findings of The Digital Memories Study. Association of Bereavement Service Co-ordinators Annual Conference: Death & Bereavement in the Digital Age. 11-12 July, Trinity University College, Leeds, UK.
O’Connor, M., Seymour, J., Wharrad, H. and Caswell, G. (2015). Unearthing digital remains after death: A qualitative exploration of the experiences of the bereaved in the digital era. Palliative Care Research Society PhD Conference: Research in the field of supportive, palliative and end of life care: developing the next generation of researchers, December 8th, University of Nottingham, UK.
Designer and curator for Museum of Random Memory: The Sound of Forgetting, 21-22 May, 2018, Data Justice Conference (Cardiff/UK) and Webworkhouse (Cork/Ireland). Live sonic installation and interactive event between two countries. Blogpost: https://futuremaking.space/the-un-archivable/
Designer and curator for Museum of Random Memory: Glitch Memory, 29-30 August 2018, Godsbanen Cultural Centre, Aarhus, Denmark. Multi-channel video installation and interactive event. Blogpost: https://futuremaking.space/aie_conference_sketch/
Designer and curator for Museum of Random Memory: Shrine to Lost Data, 10-13 October, Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) Conference, Montréal, Canada. Sound, video and physical installation built on public contributions.
2019 Open Lab, Human-Computer Interaction research institute, Northumbria University, Newcastle, April 5th. Title: The Digital Memories Study: Exploring how groups of people use and experience the digital material of their dead over time.
2018 Death Online Research Symposium (DORS) Doctoral symposium, University of Hull, U.K., August 17th. Title: Interdisciplinary research and ethics.
2017 Derby Crisis Support Annual Training Day, Derby, UK, March 23rd. Title: What are digital remains and why do they matter in crisis support?
Treetops Hospice Therapeutic Services Training Day, November 14th, 2017: Title: The Digital Memories Study: Exploring how bereaved people use and experience the posthumous digital artefacts of their dead.
Associated prizes and awards
2018 Dean Moore Postgraduate Student Award, University of Nottingham Tri-Campus Awards.
Postgraduate Teaching Award: Highly Commended, University of Nottingham Tri-Campus Awards.
2017 £3K Graduate School BESTS Prize (Building Experience and
Skills Travel Scholarship), two-month internship at FutureMaking (Denmark /USA) with Professor Annette Markham, Aarhus University, Denmark. Conceived and delivered three installations of The Museum of Random Memory (listed above).
£500 National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) East Midlands PhD/MD Travel/Research prize.
2016 Funding from The Sue Ryder Care Centre for the Study of
Supportive, Palliative and End of Life Care, University of Nottingham, to undertake Certificate in Grief and Bereavement Counselling at the Institute of Counselling.
2015 First poster prize. Palliative Care Research Society National
PhD Conference, December 8, University of Nottingham, UK.
PhD scholarship: £42K University of Nottingham Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship for Research Excellence (EU).
Media and public engagement
2018 Advisory Board Member for Apart of Me, an interactive game to support grieving children and young people, by Bounce Works, London. In December 2017, The Guardian UK named Apart of Me amongst the “Top 10 tech projects to get excited about in 2018”. https://apartofme.app/
2017 Interviewed on webcast on digital-era bereavement aimed at young bereaved people, broadcast by design studio Bounce Works, London. https://apartofme.app/blog/2017/10/04/digital-death/.
2016 Online article Rest In Pixels: How will you be remembered when you die? published on culture and technology writing website ‘Headstuff’”. https://www.headstuff.org/topical/science/rest-pixels-will-remembered/
Guest on culture and media podcast Shitegeist on portrayals of digital immortality in UK Channel 4 sci-fi series ‘Black Mirror’. https://backtracks.fm/discover/s/shitegeist/1ad6f3c04ec64bf1/e/bonus-ep-7-1-san-junipero-follow-up-w-special-geist-morna-oconnor/9c8a28d10700f7be
Speaking appearance on BBC East Midlands Today television news item about digital-era grief. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pi720izNeU
Posted on Friday 28th January 2022