John Horne on  contemporary representations of dying

John, who has recently completed his PhD talks about his research.

Duration: 2:31 mins


My name is John Horne and I'm a PhD student in the Department of American and Canadian Studies where I've just finished a Masters.

My research is looking at representations of dying in contemporary visual culture - film, television, but also websites and newspapers and so on. I'm particularly interested in how these representations deal with social taboos around death and our anxieties about dying.

Particularly, how they impact upon the stigmatisation and social devaluation of those who actually are dying. This PhD comes from work I was doing during my Masters looking at a Birmingham-run project by the NHS. It was grounded in very current concerns about community engagement and education about death and dying.

Dying today is something that's kind of a very private affair and very much hidden from social view and often takes place within an institutional setting. So what interests me about visual culture is that it's the place where we do encounter dying. Often quite frequently. But that encounter is sort of shaped and mediated, whether for our entertainment or our education or aesthetic enjoyment.

What I'm interested in trying to with my PhD is tease out the various ways in which dying is constructed visually and given social and cultural meaning. I'm particularly interested in thinking about how those representations either compound or challenge the status quo and either encourage us to relate with the person who is dying or just look upon them as something upon a screen.

I'm hoping that as well as getting a greater sense of contemporary representations or accounts of dying, there's also a way that my research can translate into stuff that's going in healthcare and around education, not just within a community setting, but also healthcare professionals and so on. Because we're all dealing with the same problems of taboo and anxieties.