Sharing pain and grief online: The self-referential digital image of illness and death as an element of destigmatisation, connetion, visibility and co-presence

PI: Rebeca Pardo
Funded by: BBVA Fundation. 2015 call for financial assistance to scientific research teams in the digital humanities
Length: 2015-2017

The project focused on interdisciplinary research into the representation of pain and grief within the field of the image and digital humanities. The specific object of study concerned self-referential images of illness and death shared on the internet. Along the same lines, the project analysed the new practices, narratives and formats emerging on social media and the internet in relation to such images, as well as their cultural significance.

Practices of this sort, which are distinctly contemporary, growing and of major social interest, are the result of a handful of factors, such as a changing perception in the boundaries between private and public space, a rising number of people living with chronic illness who call for greater awareness and visibility not only of their pain, but also of their needs, and the transformations in attitudes towards death that are becoming visible online.
To that end, we sought to analyse the paradigm shift of the image in this context, particularly exploring the active role played by the image as a mediator in processes of co-presence linked to issues of stigmatisation, the creation of new communities and the display of pain and grief.

The project made use of a mixed-method approach, which ranged in nature from statistics to visual/semiotic analysis and drew on a team of researchers from a variety of fields, including the visual arts, communication, visual anthropology, digital ethnography and art history.
The aim of the project was to obtain qualitative and quantitative results that would assist in understanding an increasingly widespread contemporary phenomenon that has far-reaching societal implications, while also contributing to the study, standardisation and visibilisation of practices related to the representation of illness, death and grief in the digital environment.


Rebeca Pardo
Universitat Internacional de Catalunya

Montse Morcate
Universitat de Barcelona