Mourning on VKontakte

by Elena Bazina

Institution: Stockholm University
Year: 2016
Keywords: mourning online; digital death; memorial pages; death studies; continuing bonds theory; personal community; new model of bereavement; Social Sciences; Samhällsvetenskap; Social Sciences; Media and Communications; Media Studies; Samhällsvetenskap; Medie- och kommunikationsvetenskap; Medievetenskap
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2063925
Full text PDF: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:su:diva-131146


The digital age has changed the way we live and die. A large variety of social networking services (SNS) have become our everyday context. Profiles on SNS register all important moments of a user’s life. Death, one of the most essential concepts of human existence, is also reflected on SNS in different ways. The digital era offers a wide variety of options for online mourning. The bereaved can create an online memorial, put a candle for the deceased’s soul in a virtual church, or even arrange funerals. Current research is focused on the role of communication in the process of online mourning on SNS: it examines how members of an online community communicate with a dead user and with each other, how this communication differs before and after death, and how offline death culture corresponds with online mourning rituals. Almost all of the studies on online death culture published so far have referred to the Western mourning tradition and analyzed online mourning in an English-speaking environment. This work suggests that the process of online mourning differs in different cultural contexts, depending on local mentality, culture, and traditions and intended to be the first study on death in an online environment conducted on Russian material (social networking service VKontakte). Methodologically this study follows a mixed-methods approach. The results from content analysis conducted on the groups of commemoration on VKontakte have shown to whom these groups are dedicated and how members of commemoration groups communicate with the deceased and with each other. Discourse analysis complement the results of content analysis by showing how communication in online communities differs before and after death. The results of the research were discussed in connection to Russian death culture, the meaning of death and dying in Russian society. The study is relevant on several levels. It is meant as a contribution to a conceptualization of online mourning, which is clearly based on the social and cultural norms and therefore should be examined through the prism of different cultures. It brings together national culture and global digitalization and can be relevant not only for digital death studies but also for understanding contemporary Russian death culture.