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Remote Connections

Living with Terminal Illness in Digital Society

How do you stay socially connected when you’re chronically ill and stuck at home? How can you live out your last dream while undergoing chemotherapy? How do you overcome feelings of isolation in a palliative care station?

Common challenges faced by persons at the end of life include hopelessness, loneliness, and a variety of intense emotions as well as mundane tasks that need to be addressed. In pluralistic societies, people who are terminally ill can draw on a great variety of social and cultural resources that are available to them to cope with these challenges. Along with traditional offerings such as rituals or pastoral work, internet and social media can be an asset for communication, expression, and interaction when suffering from severe illness.

Drawing on field research in hospital and hospices as well as internet ethnography, this exploratory study traces the role of digital technologies in courses of dying as a resource to create meaning in response to the demands and burdens of terminal illness. Three case studies of singles persons will be conducted, all of which examine the emerging role of everyday digital practices in the context of dying in relation to worldview and way of life. Overall, the study seeks to explore the changing nature of dying in digital society and to advance the understanding of the affective ambivalences of living with terminal illness. The findings may also help to understand better the chances and challenges imposed by individualism on people facing the end of life.

Doctoral student:
Gaudenz Metzger

Second advisor:
Dr. Francis Müller, Zurich University of the Arts

Time period:
2020–2023 (completed)

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