Understanding the social contexts of a family death

We are pleased to share our most recent article published from our research with families in urban Senegal. In this article, we try to understand how people made sense of a family death, within the social contexts of their lives. We theorise this in terms of ‘meanings-in-context’, since meanings and contexts are inextricably bound up together and cannot be separated out: meanings are shaped by particular – local and global – contexts. Contexts are also shaped by the meanings through which people experience their life circumstances. We discuss how people made sense of the family death in relation to three main contexts: family, religion, and materiality.

Families are considered to be absolutely central to people’s lives, being the major source of support and security in precarious life circumstances. After a death, then, families were a key source of support and also of motivation, for the future of the family as a whole. When a family member died, it was the role they played in family life that was central to the sense of loss, and they were often described as ‘irreplaceable’ in these terms.

In relation to family and religion (primarily Sufi Islam) particularly, the death was understood very much as a key communal context for making sense of the death. It was only a minority of people who gave a medical cause of death, although others might refer to physical symptoms. Rather, detailed holistic accounts were often given, of events leading up to the death, and the idea that the death was ‘God’s Will’ was frequently mentioned. This idea provided many people with a significant basis for accepting the death, although sometimes this might also mean that ‘too many tears’ might be frowned upon as indicating an inability to accept God’s Will.

The third context that we discuss is materiality, and in particular we consider how emotions were bound up with the material consequences of the death, which could be severe. This particularly contrasts with ideas of affluent Minority worlds, where emotions are generally understood as something separate from material life.

For more in-depth discussion of these ‘meanings-in-context’, read our blogpost and article.

Launch of our Youth Wellbeing Network @YWellbeingNet

We are pleased to launch our new Youth Wellbeing Network, a global network of policymakers, practitioners, researchers and youth supporting a holistic approach to young people’s psychosocial wellbeing. Like our Facebook page and join the group to share information about events, share resources and network.

Interpréter le ‘chagrin’ et les émotions dans des contextes interculturels

Dans notre article publié dans Mortality récemment, nous discutons le processus complexe de traduire et interpréter le ‘chagrin’ et les émotions dans des contextes multiculturels et interculturels.  Nos expériences d’une recherche qualitative menée en milieu urbain au Sénégal, Afrique de l’Ouest, démontrent l’importance d’impliquer les interprètes et les chercheurs sur le terrain dans tout le processus de recherche. Cela nous a permis d’avoir une connaissance approfondie des nuances culturelles des langues autochtones et de comprendre comment celles-ci sont traduites et potentiellement reformulées dans le processus.

Lire le blog post complet ici.

New blogpost on emotionally sensed knowledge

Ruth Evans’ Methods in Motion blogpost shows how an approach of ‘uncomfortable reflexivity’ can help to reveal the work of emotions in cross-cultural research. Thanks to the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University, for publishing this edited version of our original blogpost.

New Social Dynamics in Senegal workshop

Ruth Evans gave a very well received keynote at the New Social Dynamics in Senegal workshop organised by Aurélien Baroiller, Boubacar Barry & Hannah Hoechner, at Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels (13-14 March 2017). Her presentation, “Your tears are like pouring hot water on the body”: Caring for the dead and responses to a family death in urban Senegal, explored the social regulation of grief and how care for the dead is expressed. The workshop provided an opportunity to connect with other academics and researchers working in Senegal and think how best to continue the dialogue in future.

Towards an Anthropology of Grief

Ruth Evans was pleased to speak at the recent workshop Towards an Anthropology of Grief organised by Aurélien Baroiller, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes Contemporains, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium (8-9 March 2017). Ruth’s paper explored the paradox of absence-presence and the importance of time-space practices in understanding continuing care of the dead in urban Senegal. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss the research findings with anthropologists of grief working in diverse contexts globally.

Interpreting ‘grief’ and emotions in cross-cultural contexts

In our latest article in Mortality, we discuss the complex process of translating and interpreting ‘grief’ and emotions in multilingual, cross-cultural settings. Our research in urban Senegal demonstrates the importance of involving interpreters and field researchers throughout the research process. This enabled us to gain insight into the cultural nuances of indigenous languages and how these are translated and potentially re-framed in the process.

Read the full post here.

What We ‘Don’t Know’ in Cross-Cultural Research

As debates about ‘truth’ continue to hit the headlines, sociologist Dr Jane McCarthy explores what we ‘don’t know’ in cross-cultural research in a blogpost for the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University.  She writes….

“What counts as ‘truth’ is a political hot topic. Yet a previous post has argued that knowledge is relative, a matter of social production, shaped by power dynamics. So how do we reconcile such perspectivism with a continuing search for robust knowledge, whether ‘at home’ or ‘abroad’ – knowledge that is sorely needed in the current climate?

Although my work was based in the UK for many years, more recently I have welcomed opportunities to research aspects of children’s lives in China, and family experiences of death in Senegal. In these projects, I’m driven by the need to step outside the perspectives of the minority, affluent worlds in which I live, to find out what it is ‘we’/I don’t know. Knowledge needs to be diverse and flexible – while remaining robust – if it is to become something really useful in a complex and often intolerant world in which globalisation and technology increasingly compress time and space, bringing diversities into sharp relief with major human consequences.

Yet short-term qualitative research falls painfully short of the anthropological gold standard of studying diverse peoples by learning new languages and immersing oneself in the field. Researching ‘abroad’ has involved steep learning curves. I have relied heavily on team-working with Chinese and Senegalese academics and with UK researchers already familiar with these contexts. The careful focus on the details of constructing our research has been crucial, alongside an awareness of broader power structures and dynamics that impinge on our work”.

Read the full version of Jane’s Methods in Motion blogpost

How can we produce emotionally sensed knowledge on death and bereavement?

Doing research on ‘sensitive topics’, such as death and bereavement, can raise particular challenges for qualitative and cross-cultural researchers. This is often due to the deep emotions which may be evoked among both participants and researchers, and the ways that emotions are culturally produced. Our new blogpost reflects on the methodological complexities of producing ’emotionally-sensed knowledge’ about death and bereavement in our qualitative research in urban Senegal.  It summarises the key messages from our article published in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology.

Researchers meeting local facilitators in Kaolack, Senegal

For whom and what do we grieve, when and where?

We are pleased to announce a new call for papers!

For whom and what do we grieve, when and where: : The geo-politics of diverse experiences of death, bereavement and remembrance: human and non-human

Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Annual Conference 2017, London, 29th Aug-1st Sept 2017

Session Convenors: Ruth Evans, Beth Greenough, Phil Howell, Avril Maddrell, Katie McClymont

Sponsored by: RGS-IBG Social and Cultural Geography Research Group and              Political Geography Research Group

Politics are at the core of geographies of death, dying, grieving and memorialisation (Johnson 1994; Sidaway 2009; Stevenson et al 2016), with local and national governments acting as key providers of cemeteries and crematoria and commissioners of public memorials; likewise, immigration policy and welfare regimes impact on experiences of bereavement.  Yet the politics and political processes surrounding death and how these intersect with socio-cultural differences are under-examined and little articulated. This applies to groups marginalised by monolithic and intersectional exclusion from power; likewise it applies to the politics of what, as well as who is ‘grievable’ in Butler’s (2009) terms: which species, where and when? which environments and contexts?

For these two sessions we invite conceptual, empirical and methodological papers which explore the varied political dimensions of embodied, personal, socio-cultural, geo-political, environmental and species loss through a geographical lens.

We particularly welcome contributions that address the following themes:
·         the geopolitics of intersectional migration deathscapes
·         cemetery and crematoria needs in multi-cultural society
·         minority provision in the face of hegemonic spaces and practices
·         gendered, classed and ethnic memorialscapes
·         death and bereavement in the global South
·         Post-Brexit experience of loss
·         cross-species grief
·         discursive and physical space for animals, including pets
·         memorialisation of war, including civil war and animal death
·         Loss of biospheres and habitat
·         Euthanasia
·         Extinction
·         Dialogue between human and non-human loss

Please send an abstract of 200-250 words to Katie.mcclymont@uwe.ac.uk or r.evans@reading.ac.uk by 5pm 6th February 2017.

See RGS-IBG website for further details.