Consumption and Bereavement


Speaker:Stephanie O'Donohoe, University of Edinburgh
Date: Friday 16 December 2011
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Location: Matrix Lecture Theatre

Further details

Our guest speaker is Stephanie O'Donohoe who will give a talk on “Consumption and continuing bonds between the living and the dead”. Stephanie is a Reader at the University of Edinburgh Business School. Her work has been published in leading international journals, including European Journal of Marketing, Human Relations, British Journal of Management and Journal of Marketing Management. Her research concerns consumers' interactions with the marketplace as their family circumstances change, specifically investigating consumption symbolism in bereavement as well as in transition to motherhood. Stephanie also conducts research in advertising consumption as well as production and children’s relationship with advertising and marketing communications.


Many bereavement scholars have challenged the dominant Freudian view that the task of mourning involves learning to "let go". In contrast, they have argued that continuing bonds with the deceased are potentially healthy and functional - that there are positive ways of living with the dead, rather than without them (Klass et al 1996). These scholars see continuing bonds as forged and maintained by survivors embedded in particular societies and cultures, expressing and enacting connections through a wide range of practices and material artefacts (Hawkins 1993; Hallam and Hockey 2001).

Drawing on work undertaken jointly with Professor Darach Turley of Dublin City University, this presentation seeks to understand the texture and emotional tenor of the relations that bereaved people can have with a range of objects, including those that seem mundane or simply part of the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Taking Joan Didion’s best-selling memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, as its focus, it examines the varied and significant roles that certain objects played as she negotiated the vagaries of her first year as a widow. While previous literature has mined the memorialising function of goods for survivors, we suggest that goods and consumption experiences can also serve as tools to think with when struggling to create meaningful narratives of death and loss.

The presentation also outlines how this work is currently being extended by an exploration of how people facing terminal illness expend some of their final, limited energy forging and facilitating continuing bonds, not least through consumer goods.