Research student insight
Jana is conducting research as part of her PhD alongside academic staff from the Centre for Death & Society (CDAS).
She is in investigating the concept of social death; a term used to refer to the extinction of an individual’s social or legal identity, either before or sometime after physical death.
Differences in growing old
Jana’s interest in death studies came from her family experiences with her two grandmothers.
“One of my grandmothers was a prime example of an active, lively and happy person, while by contrast my second grandmother was the exact opposite, exhibiting boredom with life, often complaining and saw herself as someone who was just awaiting death - she appeared socially dead thirty years prior to her physical death. At this younger stage of my life I wondered why my grandmothers were living such different lives. I also considered whether there was a way to help my sad and demotivated grandmother. ”
Following these observations, Jana's undergraduate thesis in the Czech Republic asked the question: How do elderly people perceive the end of life?
Jana’s thesis was graded as being of outstanding quality and was published in Social Work, a respected Czech academic journal.
Defining social death and the perceptions of it
Her work more recently has revealed that social death is a cross-disciplinary matter. Although often meaning rather different things, the concept has been developed independently by researchers in a range of fields, including gerontology, dementia and death studies, but also mental health, the history of slavery, and genocide studies.
“Human beings are inevitably social. They are embedded in social structures, they belong in groups, located within various cultural and legal contexts; they have relations and identities, they have different personality traits and find themselves situated within time and space. However, some people at some point in their lives may not be recognised by society and for several reasons experience social non-existence.”
Structural similarities repeatedly re-emerging across these fields have a common denominator, which is provisionally referred to as social death. This term has been used analytically, metaphorically, and as an untheorised ‘spray-on’ term.
“I have found that scholars in one field are often unaware of use of the term social death in other fields, and it has not yet been thoroughly conceptualised as a cross-disciplinary phenomenon.”
The term social death has been used to refer to the extinction of an individual’s social or legal identity, and may be inflicted by the self or by society. It has also been used to refer to the death of a social group or culture. Before physical death, this could entail being treated as a commodity, disintegration of social networks, extreme isolation, or forced removal of individuals and/or groups from their group/land of origin/belonging.
“My current PhD thesis aims to identify how social death may be best conceptualised, how it relates to other concepts in the social sciences, and to assess its usefulness in research and its implications for social work practice.”
Researching at PhD level
Images of research
Jana took part in the Images of Research 2013 competition at the University, where she presented her research to boost engagement using Augmented Reality.
Jana found the structured writing approach required while researching the UK very different to the style encouraged in the Czech Republic for her undergraduate degree.
“I struggled to find my academic writing style initially, but since Easter 2013 I have discovered my own rigorous but fluid style.”
She is enjoying being part of the postgraduate community in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Science, where she can share learning and build a network across the social sciences.
“I am also privileged to be part of Centre for Death & Society where the shared interest over the social aspects of death, dying and bereavement creates a wonderful community of like-minded people.
“In June 2013 I presented my research to our postgraduate seminar and received very valuable feedback that helped me to progress and has given me additional motivation for future work.”
Jana assisted at the New Economies of Death CDAS conference in June 2013, where she had the opportunity to practice social interaction and networking in an international academic environment.
Her research has inspired the topic for the 2014 CDAS conference, which will focus on social death.
Plans for the future
Jana aspires to developing a professional career as an academic.
“I love to share, gain and create knowledge; I see it can really make a difference to helping others.”
To find out more about Jana's research, you can contact her by email: email@example.com