My project and me
Hello and welcome to my PhD project's blog.
My name is Paula Kiel. I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.
Click here to view my university profile.
In past projects I have tried to think generally about how contemporary media blur boundaries and challenge established categories such as local and global or presence and absence - and even life and death. My curiosity with the latter issue brought me to consider how media are involved in death-related practices (such as public mourning and memorialisation) today.
The relationship between communication technologies and death is nothing new. Photography, radio, telegraph and even television were all involved in some way in death related practices or myths. But how are digital technologies changing (or not) the way we deal with death, our own and that of others? There is a growing body of research on the question, mirroring the fact that digital technologies play an increasingly important role in our lives, and inevitably in our passing as well. Yet the technology is still very new, as is users engagement with its affordances. I believe that this moment, when both the technologies and practices are still in their infancy, to be particularly interesting for exploring the relationship between digital media and death.
Beyond my research, I currently live in London, raise a four year old boy and enjoy complaining about the local weather.
A little more About my project
Digital media are said to change every aspect of our lives. Several scholars are interested in understanding how the influence of digital media is manifested within death-related practices. Attempting to contribute to this on-going debate, my project focuses on websites that enable users to plan and prepare their online communication after their death. Different platforms offer different services and configurations of such posthumous digital presence, such as posting on Facebook or sending emails after one's death, or creating a digital avatar that would use artificial intelligence for interacting with loved ones after the user's death. My aim is to explore these websites and post-mortem digital communication as a practice. To this end, I am interested in interviewing users of such websites. Additionally, this project is also informed by interviews with designers as well as multimodal analysis of the platforms themselves.
The perspective I'm taking is based on the tradition of Social Shaping of Technology, which conceives of technological development as embedded in and driven by social circumstances, no less than scientific progress. From this perspective, the configuration of a technology is a result of a complex process involving both scientific development as well as the agency and everyday practices of users, situated within a particular historical and social context. This project is also informed by practice theory and specifically a practice approach to the study of communication and engagement (or disengagement) with communication technologies.
The matter of death lies between the personal and the universal, the public and the private. Death is about individuals and individual choices as much as it is about public concern, institutions and policies. Its link with communication technologies and specifically digital media, also places death between old and the new, traditional and innovative, institutional and commercial. It is for all of these reasons that the focus on death provides a useful entry point for understanding technological innovation.