Virtualizing Grief: Commemorating Life and Death through Online Memorials
presentationposted on 13.10.2014, 00:00 by JoAnna Wurst
Memorialization — the ways that the dead are remembered and remain part of the society of the living — has long been a subject of anthropological inquiry. More recently, anthropologists have focused on spontaneous shrines, for example the roadside temporary shrines that commemorate traumatic deaths and yellow ribbons as commentary on death in war. However, what characterizes this existing research is a focus on materiality and place. As yet, little research has been conducted on memorials that emerge on social networking sites after traumatic death. In my study, with focuses on the Facebook profiles of the deceased, I argue that these virtual memorials contain the same characteristics as material memorials: they serve as the focus for grieving and thus accumulate memories, making visible the nature of the relationship between the living and the dead. Drawing on theoretical commentaries on the prominence of technology in the American Life, I suggest that critics of social networking sites have under-estimated the importance of these forms of sociality.