Social Media for Coping with Grieving and Bereavement

My colleague Ylva and I are hoping to organize a panel at IR14 in Denver on the use of social media for coping with grieving and bereavement.

If you are interested in participating please send us your short paper. In order to put together the panel application we need your submission by 1 March, please email your work to us. We will then put together the panel and submit everything to the final deadline by 14 March.

Here are the instructions
SHORT PAPERS (individual or multi-author) – Minimum 1000 words, 1200 word maximum not including bibliography. Papers should include:
– Description/summary of the work’s intellectual merit with respect to its findings, its relation to extant research and its broader impacts.
– A description of the methodological approach or the theoretical underpinnings informing the research inquiry.
– Conclusions or discussion of findings.
– Bibliography of work cited.
– Submissions must adhere to the template for the conference.

Online instructions

We are also interested in gathering or joining a larger international network in this topic in order to carry out cross-cultural comparisons.

Ylva Hård af Segerstad

Mathias Klang

Death, Internet & Law PhD

This is so cool! Almost makes me want to do a second PhD… More info here.

PhD Studentship in


University of Strathclyde – Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – School of Law -– Legal Aspects of Transmission of Digital Assets on Death

The School of Law in the University of Strathclyde invites applications for a PhD studentship which will research the area of how the law regulates the transmission of digital assets on death, including notions of access, control, propertisation, and ownership. These assets might include: Facebook profiles, photos on Flickr, tweets, virtual assets in online game worlds such as Second Life, e-money, blog texts, eBay trading accounts, etc. This is a novel area where the student will be expected to research independently into appropriate areas of private law (eg property, succession, probate, contract) as well as intellectual property law, personality law and privacy law. A back ground in technology law is not essential, nor a technology qualification, but an interest in the information society is probably essential.

Applicants from any jurisdiction (including non-UK EU jurisdictions) are welcomed but English law will most likely form one of the jurisdictions of the study. Applicants should hold a first or upper second class Honours degree or equivalent in an appropriate discipline. A Masters qualification may be helpful. The studentship is funded by the Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub ( who are a major interdisciplinary centre for study of the Internet and ubiquitous computing funded by the RCUK Digital Economy programme and based at Nottingham University; the successful candidate will be based within the expanding Centre for Internet Law and Policy at Strathclyde Law School, but will have opportunities to participate in Horizons activities. The student will be supervised by the Director of CILP, Professor Lilian Edwards.

Applicants should submit, by SEPTEMBER 16 2011, a full CV, two academic references, evidence of academic qualifications to date and a covering letter detailing interest in the area of research to:

Janet Riddell (Horizon Digital Economy Scholarship), Graduate School Manager, Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, Room LT205, Livingstone Tower, 26 Richmond Street, Glasgow, G1 1XH

Or by e-mail to:

Successful applicants will have their fees at home/EU rates only ((sadly)) waived for three years together with an annual maintenance award for three years of £13,590. The scholarship is for one year in the first instance and subject to satisfactory progress, will normally be renewed up to the maximum of a further 2 years.

Visit for general information on postgraduate research study at the University of Strathclyde and for further information on research degrees in the Law School.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to:

Fifty years after Camus

Albert Camus died fifty years ago today. His first impact into my life was with The Myth of Sisyphus which took the myth as a metaphor for life and demanded that the prime question which must be answered first is “…whether life is or is not worth living.” The answer? Life is a pointless Sisyphusian task but still suicide is not the answer: “The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Each of his works open up more and more depth. Even now when I have lost the desire for the existentialist darkness Camus still gets to the point of it all. Quickly and ruthlessly. The Stranger (together with the Myth) taught us that there are always options and Caligula shows that madness is necessary for people to realize system failures. His notebooks are filled to the brim with ideas, short cryptic notes and twitterlike entries among depth and concrete tips.

To write is to surrender. The art requires giving up some things. Write on. An effort that always bears fruit, of one kind or another. A question of laziness of those who fail. (Tranlated from my Swedish translation of his Cahiers 1935-1942)

In closing a quote from Albert Camus’ speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1957

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death.

When robots kill

Not long ago I wrote about a worker who was “attacked” by an industrial robot. In the aftermath the role of the courts was to attempt to decide who was responsible for the industrial accident. But what will happens when robots become more autonomous.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has published a report on the social, legal and ethical issues surrounding autonomous systems. As one of the contributors, lawyer and visiting professor at Imperial College London, Chris Elliot says to the Guardian:

If you take an autonomous system and one day it does something wrong and it kills somebody, who is responsible? Is it the guy who designed it? What’s actually out in the field isn’t what he designed because it has learned throughout its life. Is it the person who trained it?

These are very cool questions which need to be discussed now as we stand on the eve of autonomous systems. Read the report here.

Naturally the whole autonomous systems brings to mind the whole Skynet (from Terminator) plot. From Wikipedia:

In the Terminator storyline, Skynet gains sentience shortly after it is placed in control of all of the U.S. military’s weaponry. When they realize that it has become self-aware, and what the computer control is capable of, the human operators try to shut the system down. It retaliates and believes humans are a threat to its existence, it then employs humankind’s own weapons of mass destruction in a campaign to exterminate the human race.

But if that happened I doubt that legal responsibility will be the most important thing to discuss…

Macabre Tourists

So what makes some strange tourist attractions “normal” and other attractions are seen as macabre? When in Rome admiring piles of bones in the Christian catacombs on the Via Appia qualify is normal behavior, but this is really too easy. Many religious festivities and sights include relics often comprising of bones or other bodily remains of the great and not so great. They have become so mainstream so as not to be considered macabre. In fact body parts are all to often part of our veneration of the famous – even if the thought makes us a bit queasy.

Several examples of our need to collect memento’s of the famous exist:

Beethoven’s ears were hacked out and soon went missing. Rene Descartes’s middle finger was stolen… Napoleon’s reputed penis went on a picaresque odyssey of its own… Josef Haydn’s head was stolen by phrenologists at his burial. (Hayden Digging Up the Dead For Medical Diagnoses OHMY News)

So it’s not surprising that when we are tourists we drop in and stare at them. Not to mention mummified remains in various museums. Imagine a dead relative presented in a glass case for all to stare at…

But this is so commonplace that it is not strange.

On the other hand there are some activities which may be seen as more odd, or decidedly macabre. A relatively common tourist activity in Paris is visiting the graves of the famous. The Père Lachaise Cemetery is listed in all the better guidebooks (in London the activity confined to gawking at the tombs and comematorive plaques in Westminster Abbey) this is begining to be odd.

But leaving lipstick kisses on the tomb of Oscar Wilde, alcohol at Jim Morrison, notes with Marilyn Monroe, or pennies on the stone memorial of Traveller (General Robert E. Lee’s horse), quarters at Jayne Mansfield,  must be seen as belonging to the more bizarre behavior.

While all this is strange, the strangest so far is the practice of tourists in Dallas to get the photograph taken standing on an X in the middle of the road. It’s the X that marks the spot were Kennedy was killed. Now that’s macabre. It makes visiting graveyards seem perefectly natural.

Dealy Plaza macabre tourists by bjmccray (CC by nc nd)

Taking your toys with you

Unsurprisingly or surprisingly? (I don’t know which is worse in this case) many people want to be buried with their mobile devices, (MSNBC via Infocult)

It seems that everyone under 40 who dies takes their cell phone with them,” says Noelle Potvin, family service counselor for Hollywood Forever, a funeral home and cemetery in Hollywood, Calif. “It’s a trend with BlackBerrys, too. We even had one guy who was buried with his Game Boy.

So I would take my laptop if I could be sure that they had free wifi down under…

Rest in peace God… but why?

Across the street from the cathedral in Göteborg someone has sprayed the words “Vila i frid Gud” which translates to “Rest in Peace God”. At first I just ignored it. Then I decided to photograph it, but still I didn’t think it was worth much. But the words stuck in my mind. Maybe even more so as an unbeliever.

from my flickr site

The natural connection for me was to link the sentiments that God should rest in peace was that God was dead. This idea has it’s origins in Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science”

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Nietzsche used his idea of God’s death to present the important idea that theology was no longer able to provide a source of morality for modern society.

But still the grafitti on the wall did not ring true. It took some time before I got what was wrong. If god was dead and unable to provide us with a moral solace what was the point of wishing that he was to rest in peace? The real reason we tend to wish RIP is to act as a comfort to those who are alive, not to the deceased.

But those who do not believe do not need comfort – so what if god is dead? Those who do believe don’t need comfort – they don’t believe the sign! So why bother writing the words on the wall? Just plain vandalism, irony or a fact that the writer does not “get” his Nietzche?

Or maybe I should just stop reading the writing on the wall?

Spineless Academy

In 1786 King Gustav III founded the Swedish Academy to preserve the purity, strength, and sublimity of the Swedish language” (Svenska Språkets renhet, styrka och höghet). The Swedish Academy is most famous for decideding who will be the laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in memory of the donor Alfred Nobel. A task it has been carrying out since 1901.

The motto of the Academy is “Talent and Taste” (Snille och Smak) and apparently neither talent nor taste have anything to do with any form of courage.

In connection with the Rushdie affair when the Iranian mullahs pronounced the fatwa against him. The Swedish academy decided not to make a statement in favor of Rushdie and denouncing the death threat he now faced. The academy naturally could comfortably rely on old principles that they should not make political statements. Two of the members of the academy left in protest (Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten).

So now when the Italian author Roberto Saviano is revieving death threats for writing a book about the Camorra and several notables (amongst others: Michail Gorbatjov, Desmond Tutu, Orhan Pamuk, Dario Fo, Günter Grass & Salman Rushdie) have shown their support, the academy when asked formally to show support replies (my translation)

It is extremely sad that a writer in an European country is in mortal danger because of something he published but it seems to me [Horace Engdahl the academy secretary] to be a police errand and not a question of protecting principles of freedom of expression.

The people of talent and taste are hiding behind their non-political stance to avoid taking formal moral stances. Everything a body like the Swedish Academy does is political. Every time they make a choice in litterature concerning the most author most deserving of the Nobel prize – it is a political choice.

Therefore the decision not to stand up for freedom of expression or, at the very least, to condem death threats is moral cowardice.

But is it art?

This is just plain silly. The Telegraph reports that a convict who may get the death penalty has agreed that if he is sentenced to death he will give his body to art. The body will be deep-freeze-dried and turned into fish food. Visitors to the exhibition will then be able to feed goldfish with the ex dead con.

The artist says:

“ is not his story that is as important for me as the system that exists in a society such as America’s in such a vulgar and primitive way, the system, of killing people like this. I wanted to raise awareness of the fact there are people killed legally in our Western civilisation.”

Is it only me or does this all just feel like a publicity stunt to increase the ego, reputation and through this economic value of the artist?

photo Secret Life of Wanda by tomanthony (CC by-nc-nd)

but did anyone ask what the fish want?

Goodbye George Carlin

I missed that George Carlin died in June. He was a great stand-up with a wicked sense of humor. He had some great observations about the arrogance and stupidity of human beings. Among his great lines was this:

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.