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My Summary of "Death Online Research Symposium", August 2015, London, UK - Day 1

The second Death Online Research Symposium (website temporarily down for maintenance) was held in August 2015 at Kingston University, London. You are welcome to follow it on social networks via #DORS2. 

You are welcome to read my summary of the first Death Online Research Symposium: Day One, Day Two and/or follow it on social networks via #DORS. It was held in Durham, UK in April 2014. 

The early arrivals met on August 16th for a little get-together supper before the symposium commenced. 

Kingston upon Tames, London

Day 1 - August 17th

We were greeted by Korina Giaxoglou, Kingston University and Stacey Pitsillides, Goldsmiths University of London, who co-organized the symposium. I wish to take this opportunity to thank them both for all the hard work they've put into making it successfully happen. 

Korina Giaxoglou (left) and Stacey Pitsillides

Keynote lecture by Dorthe Refslund Christensen, Aarhus University, Denmark

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Heterotopic Relations Between Media and Materiality in Children's Online Memorials and on Children's Graves" (with Kjetil SandvikUniversity of Copenhagen, Denmark)

"In this paper we analyze how bereaved parents make use of various media-strategies on online memorial sites and on children’s 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. 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 children’s 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".

Panel session 1: (Re)mediating Death and Bereavement  

Panel Chair: Stacey Pitsillides, University of Greenwich
  • Online Emotion Regulation: Why the kind of loss does (not) matter in coping in online bereavement: Katrin Döveling, University of Leipzig 
  • Built and received identities in virtual memorials: Anna Haverinen, University of Turku 
  • Bereaved parents’ online grief communities: de-tabooing practices of grief-ghettos: Ylva Hard af Segerstad and Dick Kasperowski, Gothenburg University, Kjetil Sandvik, University of Copenhagen and Dorthe Refslund Christensen, Aarhus University
  • ‘We do it to keep him alive’: The use of Facebook in the aftermath of a suicide: Jo Bell and Louis Bailey, University of Hull
  • Mourning in bits and stone: understanding the materiality, spatiality and temporality of digitally augmented memorial sites: Jakob Sabra and H.J. Andersen, Aalborg University

Katrin Döveling, University of Leipzig 

I was captivated by her presentation and one sentence struck a chord with me. This isn't the exact wording, only the way I remember it: 
"I don't wanna be in school: they don't understand me there. I wanna be here". (Here = online, V.S.)
I also liked her suggestion that this should be further looked into, in an intercultural research.

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Online Emotion Regulation: Why the Kind of Loss Does (Not) Matter in Coping in Online Bereavement

In today’s digitalized global village, 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, but in a digital era, all age groups can be part of virtual interaction processes. 
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’, which incorporates empathic interactions. Emotion regulation patterns disclosed similarities as well as differences in online bereavement of children, adolescents and adults. Extending the analysis, this investigation of digitally mediated grieving and emorializing goes one-step further.
The research questions are: 
  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, generating insight into online shared 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".

Anna Haverinen, University of Turku: 

Picture by Jakob Sabra

I was fascinated by her presentation. The one sentence which struck a chord with me - this isn't an exact quote, only the way I remember it: A bereaved sister says of her experience of being a sister to her deceased sibling:  
"I am a sister without a sister". 
I admit I never thought about it like this before. She also spoke about wording, phrasing and terminology: when you say "I'm an orphan" or "I'm a widow/er", your relationship and status with the deceased is clear.  But with a deceased sibling, you have to say "I'm a bereaved sister/brother" - you can't say it all in one word. And what happens if there were just the two of you? You are a sister/brother, but you have no sibling to be a sister/brother to. I never thought about this before, I admit. 

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Built and Received Identities in Virtual Memorials

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. 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, 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, 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, where the focus is on the life narratives of the bereaved and the deceased".

Ylva Hard af SegerstadGothenburg University, Dick KasperowskiGothenburg University, Kjetil SandvikUniversity of Copenhagen and Dorthe Refslund Christensen, Aarhus University:

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"Bereaved Parents’ Online Grief Communities: De-Tabooing Practices of Grief-Ghettos
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".

Jo Bell and Louis BaileyUniversity of Hull:

Ah, Facebook. There is so much to say about Facebook and death, Facebook and mourning, Facebook and commemoration. 
The sentence that "stayed with me" from this presentation was how the bereaved family members felt they were experiencing "a second loss" when people dropped out of the remembrance group / page, or stopped visiting it. 

There were several calls to digital designers during the symposium, and this was one of them. If you're a digital designer and interested in digital death matters, get in touch with Jo

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"‘We Do It To Keep Him Alive’: The Use of Facebook in the Aftermath of a Suicide

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 to the deceased".

Jakob Sabra and H.J. Andersen, Aalborg University:

Jakob was kind enough to share this presentation with us. This is the first slide. To see all of the slides, click here

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"Mourning in Bits and Stone: Understanding the Materiality, Spatiality and Temporality of Digitally Augmented Memorial Sites

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. 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".

Participants of Panel session #1

Left to right: Katrin, Jo, Anna, Jakob, Kjetil, Ylva 

Panel session 2: Technological Developments in the Death Industry  

Panel Chair: Anna Haverinen, University of Turku 

  • The Living Dead? The augmentation of graveyards, memorials and monumentsPhilip Wane, Nottingham Trent University 
  • Designing for future loss: new digital memorials in DenmarkStine Gotved, IT University of Copenhagen
  • Boarding a new journey: Moran Zur, "SafeBeyond"

Philip WaneNottingham Trent University:

Picture by Jakob Sabra

Here are some quotes from his abstract:

"The Living Dead? The Augmentation of Graveyards, Memorials and Monuments

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 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. The author has successfully used augmented reality in site 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). 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, pluralisation of the function of monuments and contested spaces".

Here is a video from Phil's presentation at the first DORS: 

Here is a video from Phil's presentation at DORS2: 

Stine Gotved, IT University of Copenhagen: 

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Designing for Future Loss: New Digital Memorials in Denmark 

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 (, with about 1600 active memorials) and a small score of more specialized sites for the loss of for example infants or siblings. As Haverinen 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 and experiences, 2) techoethical issues, and 3) changes in ritual practices. This way, the research project will cover the micro level (the new memorial’s 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".
There were several calls to digital designers during the symposium, and this was another one of them. If you're a digital designer and interested in digital death matters, get in touch with StineKatharina  or Nana. Here is their official invitation:

"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 in 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"

Moran Zur, Safebeyond:

Moran was kind enough to share this presentation with us. This is the first slide. To see all the slides, click here:

Here are some quotes from his abstract:

"Boarding a New Journey

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 person’s 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 user’s 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 user’s messages with pre-selected recipients at the time or place of future life events. This ensures the user’s 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. By designating online account custodians, the user ensures the preservation of the sentimental value of his digital data and virtual legacy".

Participants of Panel session #2
Left to right: Moran, Stine, Phil
Picture by Jakob Sabra

Roundtable Discussion: Digital Death and Us: What More Can Be Done?: Vered (Rose) Shavit, "Digital Dust" (= Me)

At the beginning of the session I presented what I see as the "Digital Death Problem", what existing solutions I'm familiar with and what solutions I came up with which do not yet exist, to the best of my knowledge. I asked the participants to share what existing solutions they are familiar with which I haven't yet mentioned, and what other solutions do they come up with.

It was an emotional experience for me as August 17th was my late brother's 60th birthday.

Picture by Jakob Sabra

The results of the discussion were published separately

Here are some quotes from my abstract:

"Digital Death and Us: What More Can Be Done?

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“. 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".

You can watch the video of my presentation at the beginning of the session here and the Prezi presentaion I used during it here

Artistic Presentation: Flying Land: Susana Gómez Larrañaga 

Artistic collaborationRevisiting GenesisOreet Ashery

The summary of the second day can be found here.

Most pictures taken by me, unless otherwise specified.
Some of the pictures at the roundtable session were taken by Andréia Martins. I'm afraid I don't know which ones where taken by her and which by me. Sorry for the general credit rather than a specific one, Andréia, and thank you for taking them!

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