My project and me
Hi, and welcome to my 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.
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I am generally interested in interrelated processes of social and technological change and exploring the role of communication technologies in everyday life. Particularly I'm fascinated with the ways in which technologies for communication blur boundaries and challenge established categories such as local and global, presence and absence and even life and death. I'm curious about the role technologies play in our most intimate relationships and in our interpretation and construction of the world and of technology itself.
The relationship between communication technologies and death is as old as technology itself. 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 it. 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.
A little more About my project
In recent years it has become a popular and common saying that digital media have had a significant impact on almost every aspect of everyday life. Although this extent and linearity of influence of technology on social change is challenged and contested, the role of media in everyday life and life in a society with high media saturation are a focus of interest for many academics. In this context, several scholars are interested in understanding how the ubiquity of digital media is manifested within death-related practices exploring both the continuities as well as the changes to contemporary bereavement and memorialisation practices.
Relating to this discussion but from the perspective of a media scholar (rather than death-sociologists or thanatologists), my project focuses on websites for digital legacies and online end-of-life planning, that enable users to plan and prepare their own online presence after their death. These websites, I argue, provide a helpful entry point for studying contemporary social constructions of communication as well as the mediation of mortality in Western societies.
To study these websites and their meanings, I'm conducting a multi-modal analysis of the services themselves, as well as interviews with founders and designers and obtaining insights from users of the websites as well.
The perspective I'm taking is based on the tradition of Social Shaping of Technology, which conceives of technological and social development as co-constitutive and interrelated processes. 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. My project also contributes to new approaches in sociology exploring the notion of the immortal society and the concept of immortality as a productive sociological framework for study.
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 the 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 key aspects of contemporary Western societies.
If you'd like to participate in my research or if you have any further questions or thoughts, please email me at: email@example.com.
Thanks for reading!