Research: Interview with Professor Kjetil Sandvik

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After wondering around in the corridors of the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication at University of Copenhagen I finally find Kjetil Sandvik's office. It's a small, bright office with a bookcase that takes up most of the space. When I sit down I have to move a couple of boxes to see him clearly over his desk.

I had read a few articles Kjetil had written about mourning rituals on social media, and I wanted to ask him about the findings of his research. We jump right in.

"The good thing about social media is that they can give voice to something we don't want to talk about. Like grief and death."

Kjetil and his colleagues have mainly focused on parents who loose a child, and how they cope with the loss.

"There are certain dynamics when you loose a child before it is born. It's a strong taboo. Fortunately there are not of people who experience it. But that makes it hard for people to find other in a similar situation"

The research looked at memorial websites such as Mindet.dk and closed Facebook groups. Through observation they identified some common factors. 

"The most important thing is that the forum is closed." Either a Facebook group only for parents who have lost a child, or closed memorial site only for the family.

"They use these sites to find people who are in a similar situation. Who also have to find out what it means to be a parent when your child is stillborn. They need to create a new narrative for themselves. Are you still a parent if your child is dead, or was never born? We call it reclaiming parenthood."

I tell Kjetil that I have heard of a lot stories of how Facebook and social media can be harmfull for people who are grieving. What makes social media good in these instances?

"There is a lot of assumptions about death and grief. That it's harmful, and that social media is harmful. Grief is pathologized. That's a old fashion way of thinking. We see a paradigm shift from 'letting-go-and-moving-on' to what we call 'continuing bonds'".

"People don't let go of their loved ones as strongly as before. Today we see more that the relationship changes. We internalise them in our daily lives."

"This happens after the first stage of grieving. We give meaning to the the death of our loved one. This is what we saw especially on Mindet.dk"

"It's mostly the women who grieve. The men don't say very much. But this is how it's been for centuries, we can't attribute that to new trends."

Kjetils researched also looked at a physical manifestation of grief. Children graves.

"The graves of children function much like social media. They encourage interaction and dialogue. People leave toys and drawings and interact much more with the gravesite. We don't see that with adult graves."

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Phase 1Jens Obel