Public Valediction: Grief in Virtual Space

Abstract

As often stated in connection with the new media the “publication of the private” also affects grief – understood as a reaction to a loss – associated with the death of a (usually close) person. In the course of social individualization tendencies innovative forms of grief and remembrance arise, which try to avoid culturally coined norms and can be found, for example, in disembodied form in virtual cemeteries on the internet. Their emergence implies a fundamental change in the grief culture of our society: Contrary to the tendency in the 20th century, when grief was mostly privatized, there seems to be an increasing demand to share one’s grief in the public space of the Web and, in doing so, deprivatize it again and create a digital memento. 

There are various types of online platforms for mourners to publicly articulate their grief. These include the aforementioned virtual cemeteries, which enable different communicative and emotional practices: tombs can be created, photos and songs can be posted, obituaries can be written, expressions of condolences can be entered and virtual candles can be lit, to name but a few examples. Since the emergence of virtual cemeteries during the 90s of the last century grief offerings on the internet have diversified. As part of this development platforms that were originally created for other purposes are used for the articulation of grief, for example, blogs, Facebook, or Twitter. Especially in the context of the latter, collective forms of grief interaction can be found, which not only mourn for the loss of a close, well-known person, but also for celebrities or complete strangers (e.g. in the context of tragic incidents). In this way popular and spontaneous grief movements arise, which metacommunicatively negotiate their own conventions of digital grief.

The mentioned aspects lead to the following research questions: Which emotional grief practices can be found on the internet? Which forms of interaction are they accompanied by and what are the resulting linguistic forms of the concept ‘grief’? How is the architecture of virtual cemeteries designed and which spatial metaphors occur? Which conclusions can be drawn for a virtual space concept? How do these digital grief forms influence the social grief discourse in general?

Project leadership

Karina Frick

Funding

URPP Language and Space