Bereavement and identity: making sense of bereavement in contemporary British society

  • Christine Valentine

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis examines the narrative reconstructions taken from extended conversations with 25 bereaved individuals, who volunteered their experiences of losing a loved one. By considering the interaction between self and other to be the source of knowledge, these interview conversations provided a vehicle through which the human encounter with death and loss not only found expression but came into being. Bereavement is approached as a ‘cultural object’, so as to capture prevailing ideas, norms and beliefs about how this should be handled and provide further insight into the place of death in contemporary British Society. Such ‘norms’ are taken to be co-constructed through discursive practice, and continually evolving through negotiation between the individual and social processes. Attention is therefore drawn to the way people use available cultural forms to construct and express meanings that are particular and personal to them. This study demonstrates the value of an interactive approach for gaining a fuller understanding of the complexity of social life, thereby contributing to methodological and ethical debates on the implications of using qualitative, interactive methods, particularly with sensitive topics. It highlights the co-constructed nature of the data and the crucial role of self-reflexivity in managing the emotional impact of the research on the researcher as well as the participants. An analysis of interview narratives has revealed how deceased loved ones retained a significant social presence in the life of survivors regardless of other social factors. It has highlighted the diversity of meanings people gave to their experiences, which convey how bereavement interacted with other agendas and priorities to shape their day to day social life and sense of identity. Such findings revise and extend current understandings of the ‘continuing bonds’ people forge with their dead and the nature of ‘personhood’ in contemporary British society.
Date of Award1 Jan 2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorGlennys Howarth (Supervisor)


  • identity
  • diversity
  • bereavement
  • society
  • continuing bonds
  • meaning-making

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