Ashgate, Aldershot (2014)
ISBN: 978-1-4724-1303-1 (hb)
Reviewed by Panagiotis Pentaris,
The premise of this volume stems from the idea that media is a central medium in contemporary societies of how death, dying and bereavement are considered and comprehended by the public. The editors take an explicit media theory approach as they set out to explore how the experiences of death and dying are mediated (presentation through media), remediated (presentation of one medium through another), and mediatized (elements of culture and society acquire a media form). They do so via the lens of media theory approach and the considerations of media materiality.
Mediating and remediating death is a significant contribution to the academic discourse of the sociology of death and its intersection with other disciplinary discourses, i.e. communication and media studies. It employs a twofold take on the role of media on death; it is concerned with how media facilitate the communication of death, dying and bereavement, as well it explores the appropriateness of media and other communication technologies to act as enablers and facilitators of these experiences. The volume does so by exploring how death is mediated and remediated inevitably in everyday life. In other words, mediation and remediation are treated as inseparable from lived experiences.
Furthermore, this volume draws from Walter’s work (1999), who suggests that bereaved individuals and societies reach a place of peace and acceptance through rituals and conversation. That said, the volume stresses its explorations to the mediation and remediation of relations, and how those become the means for reaching that place via media.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part, entitled Mediating and remediating encounters with death and dying, consists of four chapters, and is concerned with the argument that ‘mediation and remediation create various relationships between life and death’ (p.14). The chapters in this part include four contextually bound encounters; the sudden and violent deaths in the Utoya tragedy and how media played a role in the experience of this publicly. The following two refer to the practices of keeping relations with the dead through the paranormal, and the traditional practices of transferring spirit and knowledge from the dead to the living through spear making and contacting the dead. The last chapter reminisces the reconstruction of meaning theory (Neimeyer 2001); it presents the argument that the use of photographs enhances maintenance of relations with the dead and the experiences of grief. The second part of this volume Mediating and remediating death in public spheres part represents the idea that media connect people across nations, and boundaries are eliminated. All five chapters of this section are concerned with individual cases, which explore the role of media in communicating death and dying publicly; including mediated rituals of a public death, the mediation of a memorial site on YouTube, amateur footages of public death, the process of grieving in virtual worlds, and the mediation of memorial acts on Facebook. The last four chapters, in the third part, Mediating and remediating practices for death and dying, are concerned with how media has played out in experiencing one’s own dying, and processes of grief and commemoration. These chapters explore the different means and media that are employed when sharing one’s own death and grief publicly.
This edited volume is a brilliant contribution to the field of death studies. It further expands the accounts of sociology of death, and conceptualises death and dying via the media theory framework. Media and communication technologies have well dominated in everyday social life since the 1990s, in the developed countries, and therefore it is only logical that personal and unique experiences, such as death, dying and bereavement are examined via that lens.
Walter, T. (1999). On bereavement: the culture of grief. Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press.