English
School of Arts

AHRC Research Network: Crossing Over – New Narratives of Death

  • Overview
  • Research Context
  • Research Objectives
  • Funding
  • Members
  • Outputs

Overview

‘Crossing Over’ is an interdisciplinary network of international experts from different fields of research on death and dying who will work interactively and collaboratively on the theoretical and practical challenges posed by the changing face of contemporary death.

Elderley couple taking a peaceful walk through the woods

Both death as a moment in time and dying as a process result in intersections between spheres which might not usually interact: the theoretical and the social, the academic and the pragmatic, the arcane and the everyday. ‘Crossing Over’ exemplifies a belief that such complex matters can only be addressed by wide and innovative exchanges between academic disciplines and between academics and other professionals.

The network will consist of scholars from the humanities and social sciences and practitioners from the caring, medical and funerary professions. A conference in Sheffield in 2016 will share the fruits of the network’s research and will be open to a wide range of professionals as well as members of the public.

‘Crossing Over’ will function through a combination of face-to-face events and on-line communication tools. Individual outputs from a range of disciplines and innovative research collaborations between, for example, a literary scholar and someone working in the hospice sector will not only produce an enhanced understanding of the challenges of contemporary death but will move towards new narratives of death in which sociologists, historians, archaeologists and death management professionals can have a stake.

The network is based jointly in the Department of English and the Centre for End of Life Studies at the University of Hull.

Groups

The 'Crossing Over' network comprises three working groups, each of which focuses on specific topics that reflect the group's research interests. These are: Missing Bodies; Dying at Home; and Objects as Untold Stories.

Crossing Over Newsflash - 10 October 2016

Check out our new Outputs tab to read the collaborative poem and dying at home presentation from the network's March conference.

Network Update - October 2016

Network Conference

The Crossing Over Research Network concluded its activities with a one-day conference held at the University of Sheffield in March 2016. As well as network members, attendees included staff and volunteers from Rotherham Hospice, members of Yorkshire branches of Cruse Bereavement Care and other people interested in end of life studies including, for example, a lady who works as a humanist funeral celebrant.

The conference programme included presentations from two of the Research Network's working groups: Objects as Untold Stories; and Dying at Home. The presentation from the Objects as Untold Stories Group detailed how network members had worked with staff and volunteers at Rotherham Hospice on a creative writing project. The project explored the significance of 'things' in relationships with people who are dying or deceased. A 'thing' might be something made during a craft session or a gift received. Following a contextual session drawing on concepts from archaeology and thinking about connections with objects from the past, participants were invited to share stories about their own relationships with patients, using memories, pictures and/or physical objects as narration tools.  Working with these stories, the project team and workshop participants then used creative writing to co-produce a poem that weaved together fragments of the individual experiences shared. The poem was read aloud at the conference and proved to be a very moving although also a very uplifting experience. The poem will be published shortly on this website and on the university's Hydra digital repository.

The other main presentation at the conference came from the Dying at Home group. Three group members began with a short dramatisation of a person at the end of their life talking through how and where they wanted to spend their last days. This then led into a wider presentation about the assumptions and myths surrounding dying at home.

The conference also heard papers from Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor about the role of the family in end of life decisions and from Professor Eric Venbrux about changing funeral customs and practices in Western Europe.
 
Crossing Over - Moving On

The Research Network's Principal Investigator, Dr. David Kennedy, is currently in the process of applying for AHRC Follow-On Funding for activities to run in Dying Matters National Awareness Week in May 2017. The proposed activities are creative writing workshops drawing on the Rotherham Hospice model; a Death Café event on the university's main campus; and an ebook of short stories dealing with end of life issues.
 
Useful Websites

Dying Matters
Living Well Dying Well
Dignity in Dying
Cruse Bereavement Care
Calderdale Dying Matters Partnership
Association for the Study of Death and Society
Centre for Death and Society

Research Context

Research Context

Such a network is urgently needed in order to address changes in the cultural and social experience of death, in ideas about death, and in the management of death. The most obvious change is that sudden, early adult death is rare but long periods of frailty and disability prior to death are increasingly common. Where ‘end of life’ once referred to the moment of death, Age UK have recently suggested an expanded definition that means the last ten years of increased 80-plus lifespans. One can point to, for example, challenges to curative medicine materialised in the Hospice Movement; critiques of medicalised models of grief changing the way loss is understood; and the growth of virtual memorial sites. These shifts in ‘ordinary’ death have parallels in more radical activities such as the Right to Die movement.

There is also a need to produce theoretical and practical models that will assist in the understanding of bereavement in response to what Margaret Holloway has termed ‘the new death’. Examples would include deaths caused by natural disasters; the increase in deaths caused by alcohol or substance abuse; teenage suicide; and teenage gang-related deaths. These experiences are widely reported but little understood and go hand-in-hand with the fact that, as Christine Valentine notes, ‘the dead retain a significant social presence in the lives of the living’.

At the same time, our relationship with death has become increasingly paradoxical. Mourning is both a social process and something that is fundamentally private. As Meghan O’Rourke has observed, we live in ‘a dysfunctional culture in which we avidly consume news of death on TV and duck away from it in real life.’ The network will, therefore, focus on the following research areas:

  • The meaning of ‘the good death’ in the 21st century.
  • Changing narratives of death – literary, media and social – and the continuing social presence of the dead.
  • New and emergent discourses of spirituality.
  • The impact of ‘the new death’ on how we story the dead.
  • Changing funeral and burial practices.

Research Objectives

Research Objectives

The main research areas of ‘Crossing Over’ are informed by the following objectives:

1. To identify and respond to the theoretical and practical challenges posed by the changing face of contemporary death by the establishment of a new interdisciplinary network consisting of scholars and practitioners, experts in different fields of research on death and dying.

2. For this purpose, to organise and conduct a combination of face-to-face events (a workshop and an academic-public conference) with sustained use of on-line communication tools.

3. To make proposals on the key ways to address the challenges of contemporary death through innovative research collaborations and interdisciplinary encounters that will open conversations and develop new shared areas of reference between the humanities and the social sciences; and between academics and death management professionals. A literary scholar of elegy and a social scientist studying contemporary obituaries might work together to develop new approaches to changes in the stories we tell about individual deaths.

4. To use these conversations, new shared areas of reference, enhanced knowledge and new approaches to make a significant public contribution to death education that will suggest ways of moving beyond death-denying and death-avoiding attitudes and practices.

5. To enhance knowledge and understanding of the ways in which sustained theoretical and empirical research on death and dying has radically re-drawn existing models of the human encounter with loss; and how, in parallel, policy and practice around the management of death has also been in transition from the late 1960s.

6. To develop new approaches that will be sensitive to and value emotional expression and therefore break down barriers between, for example, the personal and the pedagogical or between the management of death and dying and individual experience.

7. To develop definable synergies between the different cognitive and organisational styles involved in the management of end of life care, death and dying and the social actualities of grieving.

8. To arrive at a more detailed and penetrating view of the social and cultural diversity involved in death and grieving and of the complex cultural and social processes underlying, for example, the hospice movement or informal markers at accident sites. This will be achieved, in part, through dialogue between British and overseas network members.

10. To facilitate sustained and continuing interaction, both formal and informal, among participants in the network, to provide extensive opportunities for discussion and debate, to promote the production of collaborative outputs, and to stimulate further research initiatives of a collaborative nature beyond the duration of the ‘Crossing Over’ project itself. Continuing interaction will be supported through publishing the network’s outputs in the form of an edited volume of essays; by developing and maintaining a publicly accessible website; and by agreeing and initiating further programmes of collaborative research on cognate subjects in the field of death studies.

11. To involve postgraduate students in the network’s formal deliberations and face-to-face events through the technologically-enhanced resources upon which the network will rely; and by the same means to disseminate its findings to the academic community at large.

Funding

Funding

‘Crossing Over’ is funded by the AHRC’s Research Networking Scheme for the period 2013-2015. It is based jointly in the Department of English and the Centre for End of Life Studies at the University of Hull and and will also have a significant contribution from University of Sheffield's multi-disciplinary Death Group convened from the Department of English (Sheffield).

The Principal Investigator of ‘Crossing Over’ is Dr David Kennedy who directs the network with the support of an Advisory Committee comprising Dr Julie Ellis (University of Sheffield), Dr Nicky Hallett (University of Sheffield), Professor Margaret Holloway (University of Hull) and Professor Sarah Tarlow (University of Leicester).

Members

Outputs

Outputs

Objects Group Collaborative Poem

You

You are frail and vital, vivid and loving
Just this: priceless, crinkly, scared
When I think of you, I think of this:
Friendship and hot tea
Skin and empathy
When I think of you I say thank you
For memories, for laughter,
For your energy, for the moment
When I think of you, I think of this:
Mismatched but treasured, broken and mended Inherited and kept safe
To see, to feel, to hold

I’m small –
You are a beautiful garden
Part of the furniture
Frayed flex, fag burns,
A bag of soil that flowers
But you are precious to me and I love you
You do press-ups, don’t suffer fools, stickers
And open the floodgates to my memories,
Brighten my day
You are precious to me: the life and soul.
I love you.

You are –
Ordinary, extraordinary
Cuddly, determined, proud
Life and soul.
But tears behind closed doors.
When I think of you, I think
What is she thinking?
Fear of the unknown?
Why me – why not me?
“I’m alreyt, I’m alreyt”

My children’s father
“I’m alreyt, I’m alreyt”
How much you cared
Now confined, never leaving that room
Just this many olives
Too young for hot tea
Past lives, long time ago
Sad you are no longer here
Your imprint on us
You saw the world through these
Brighten my day
Us making things

I’m small
You are –

Co-authored by the ‘Objects and Memories’ project team and participants from Rotherham Hospice Day Unit, 2015

Download as PDF 

Dying at Home - Briefing and Presentation

The Patient's Family and End of Life

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