Social Death: a meta-ethnography

  • Jana Králová

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD

Abstract

Abstract

Knowledge gap:
Fifty years of social death scholarship fail to offer any unified conceptualization of social death. This thesis attempts such a unification, while also demonstrating implications for three policy areas: UK end of life care policy, the UN definition of genocide, and the notion of ‘human’ in Human Rights. An extensive literature review establishes an onto-epistemic gap positioned at the point of extreme social exclusion, at the point of diminished legal protection where agency is inconsequential, and in the ontological debate about differential human value.
Research questions:
• To what extent can a meta-ethnography of social death offer an integrated conceptual framework that demonstrates paradigmatic superiority and analytical power over currently accepted concepts?

• What role might an integrated conceptual framework of social death play in informing both law and governmental policy?

Methodology:
The method used is meta-ethnography, a systematic, interpretive, textual synthesis of existing theories across 45 cross-disciplinary texts (identified from the International Bibliography of Social Sciences 2012-2015), from which emerged a reconceptualization of social death.

Findings:
- Social death has a temporary or lasting effect on people’s relationality and structural possibility. When their ontology has been permanently disallowed, relationality prohibited, and structural possibility diminished, the ideal type of social death becomes manifest: the ontologically insufficient being (OIB).
- Three types of social death are identified: positive, transitional and negative. These operate as an inter-relational process anchored in the ontology of all involved, which may have an affirming, destabilizing, or adverse impact.
- Social death has four core components: social identity, social connections, legal identity, and the body, all of which are interdependent and determine the extent to which human ontology is utilized or prevented. This is graphically captured as the ‘social death matrix’.
- Social death may arise from lack of access to, or impairment of, these four components and their intersections. Counter-intuitively, attenuating these components may enable social death by choice and result in ontological security.
- Oppression, resistance, indifference and agency – seen in the thesis as a basic ontology of human action – shape the dynamic social-relational processes leading to social death.
Policy implications:
- UK end of life care policy should take into an account all intersections of social death components as well as the possibility of social death as an ontologically affirming choice.
- The UN should include social death in its definition of genocide in order to protect hitherto unprotected populations subjected to social death.
- The notion of ‘human’ in Human Rights international law should be reconceptualized to include those deemed ‘ontologically insufficient’.
Key words:
Social death, human ontology, social identity, social connections, legal identity, body, relationships, social exclusion, wellbeing, ill-being, non-person, citizenship, non-citizenship, human rights, slavery, genocide, death, dying, old age, refugees, archaeology, thanatology, anthropology, structure-agency, neoliberalism, homo sacer, phenomenology, paradigm shift.
Date of Award3 Apr 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTony Walter (Supervisor), M Johnson (Supervisor) & Louise Brown (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Social death, human ontology, social identity, social connections, legal identity, body, relationships, social exclusion, wellbeing, ill-being, non-person, citizenship, non-citizenship, human rights, slavery, genocide, death, dying, old age, refugees, archaeology, thanatology, anthropology, structure-agency, neoliberalism, homo sacer, phenomenology, paradigm shift.

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