The strength of anthropology is that we are always learning, gathering data isn’t something we do in a lab or even something we can easily shut off. We learn through immersion, living in the same cultural context as the people we are studying. We call it participant-observation occasionally even deep hanging out in an attempt to over emphasize the causal nature of one of our greatest tools. However, the point remains the same; we need to absorb the social context while simultaneously analyzing the layers of that reality and how they might affect the situation being studied. Then when the moment is right, we start asking thoughtful questions. Sometimes formally in a pre-planned interview setting and sometimes informally while sitting on a couch in someone’s living room or at a local fair in the park. One thoughtfully worded question, placed in the right setting and time, can reveal far more insightful information than a thousand questions asked without context. That is the argument of our discipline.
My name is Sydney Yeager. I am a graduate student studying cultural anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. The following study is my (Sydney Yeager’s) dissertation fieldwork research.
Facebook Timelines are created by users and filled with brief narratives, images, and videos that collectively tell and share the story of the user’s life. When Facebook users die, their existing Facebook accounts live on, and their Timelines may be converted into digital memorials. Friends and family—anyone who has already been approved as a Facebook friend—can continue to post.
What happens to a person’s Facebook account after she dies? Why do people continue to leave messages on the Facebook walls for their loved ones long after they are dead? Do the responses on Facebook left by friends and family offer comfort to people grieving the loss of someone close to them? Are they any downsides to talking about death on Facebook?
These are the central questions of my Ph.D. dissertation research. I am exploring the how death and grief are dealt with on Facebook. I am investigating how people talk about death, remember the dead, and talk to the dead on Facebook. As a cultural anthropologist, I am interested in what people believe, how people behave, and what meaning they give their words and actions.
Data produced for this project will include an online questionnaire, semi-structured interviews, and analysis of Facebook messages, images, and videos which related grief. The data collected will be analyzed and utilized in writing my Ph.D. dissertation. The results of this research will be presented at academic conferences, in academic publications, and to the general public through this site, and my Facebook Shrines blog, and in public talks.
Grief Support Resources
1-888-CRISIS2 (274-7472) is the Arkansas Crisis center’s 24 hour/ 7 days a week hotline.
For anyone struggling with military related grief, the TAPS support services provides a 24 hour hotline 1-800-959-TAPS(8277) and a website www.taps.org.
Specifically for bereaved parents there is an association called Bereaved Parents of the USA http://www.bereavedparentsusa.org/
There are also numerous online support group and live chat options. I would start by recommending the live chat option at the Arkansas Crisis website www.arcrisis.org which is available on the homepage by pressing the Chat Now button.
AfterTalk is another excellent online grief support resource www.aftertalk.com
The Arkansas Children’s hospital website offers numerous online grief support resources on their webpage http://www.archildrens.org/Services/Center-for-Good-Mourning/Good-Mourning-Resources/Grief-Websites.aspx
Awesome starting places for digital anthropology and digital studies research projects. [More Resources to be added as I find them]
Pew Internet Which is a sub-project of the Pew Research Center that is focused on collecting up to date statistics on Internet and Digital Device usage. http://pewinternet.org/Data-Tools/Get-the-Latest-Statistics.aspx
US Census data is another good place to start for US statistical data http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
American Anthropology Association’s interest group DANG (Digital Anthropology iNterest Group) can be contacted through their blog http://01anthropology.wordpress.com/
The Cyborganthropology wiki managed by Amber Case has a compilation of links to resources as well as original content which might be useful. http://cyborganthropology.com
Suggested initial methodology for online research: http://cyborganthropology.com/Deep_Hanging_Out I’m not saying that this is the only method you should employ but it is one of the best ways to start. Each pocket and sub-community of the Internet has its own self-enforced rules, edict, and purpose, if Deep Hanging Out allows you to organically absorb that vital social information before you begin designing your project or conducting more formal methodologies.
I am still very much in the stage of proposing and revising my PhD research project but I’ll try to surmise the general topic briefly here.
I am interested in researching the social uses of digital technology and how they impact people’s well-being and consciousness. Rather than focusing on one platform, website, or technological device, I am hoping to study how people incorporate a range of digital technologies into their everyday lives and how doing so impacts their neurophysiology and health. From medical anthropology background, I am very interested in how social relationships and social interactions impact mental and physical health via social support and stressors. So with this project, I am primarily interested in how people’s incorporation of digital technology into their everyday social lives has impacted the health benefits and risks that social relationships and interactions provide. I want to study how the digitalization of our social lives has changed our relationships and how that has impacted our health.