'Looking death in the eyes': Autoethnographic perspectives on death and end of life events

Khyati Tripathi's picture
Call for Papers
December 16, 2022
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Psychology, Research and Methodology, Social Sciences, Social Work

Death in no way occurs in isolation. Whether it occurs in close proximity or is observed from a distance, it has an engulfing effect on the deceased, the bereaved, and the witnesses (who might not be bereaved). In this collection we are looking at how such experiences can be brought together to analyse their intricate elements, paving the way for the creation of new theories, conceptual frameworks, and research approaches. We invite autoethnographic essays from scholars who work in either death studies or whose work in a different field aligns with it, including multi/post-disciplinary and post-human perspectives. We are also interested in hearing from those whose professions entail a constant engagement with death (such as medical practitioners, funeral directors, frontline workers, crime scene cleaners, etc.), who would like to share their personal encounter(s) with death (direct or vicarious) through an academic essay, reflecting on and analyzing the various facets of their experiences from an evocative/emotional (Ellis, 1997, 2004), analytical (Anderson, 2006) and collaborative/relational (Ellis & Rawicki, 2013) autoethnographic perspective or an amalgam of the different ways in which autoethnography is approached, as Ellis writes “categories never completely hold” (p. 446) (Ellis & Bochner, 2006).

Autoethnography as a method has challenged the traditional ways of doing qualitative research. It involves an active engagement with memory along with a careful tying of it to one’s emotions. It is an authentic account of an insider's personal and interpersonal experiences that take place at the intersection of self and society (Reed-Danahay, 1997). It is through the articulation of that perspective, in words (and sometimes images) that the autoethnographer negotiates, introspects, reflects, and represents their memories and experiences. In this regard, there is not one conclusive response to who is considered an insider, and this could vary based on one’s experiences (one could very well be a part of a community but still be an outsider).

How to ensure that the researcher's subjectivity does not seep in is not an uncommon question in qualitative research. However, what is uncommon is to understand subjectivity in the context of the study and to look at it not as bias but as a significant invisible dialogue that a researcher has within the field. It should not be forgotten at any point in time that a qualitative researcher becomes an inevitable part of the process and a co-constructor of the knowledge shared. Any qualitative research cannot be understood bereft of the researcher’s emotional and experiential world, especially in the context of death.

This volume will bring together multi-voiced autoethnographies by going beyond the ‘twice-told multivoiced autoethnography’ (e.g. Denshire, 2015; Ellis et al, 2017) approach and focussing on the phenomenon of death analyzed through different stories/narratives/experiences of different people, rather than juxtaposing narratives of different people regarding the same event. This project, through a ‘phenomenon-based multi-voiced autoethnography’, takes into account different events pertaining to the same phenomenon (in this case, ‘death’) witnessed/experienced by different people to explore shared subjectivity and ascertain if a common thread runs through them all. 

The editors’ aim is to develop a meta-autoethnography of the analytical autoethnographies based on the different sections in the book along with a concluding meta-autoethnographic account based on the sectional meta-autoethnographies.  

We are seeking expressions of interest for contributions that address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • death spaces and the spatiality of death
  • sensory experience in association with encountering death/dead bodies
  • tangible and intangible characteristics of an encounter with death/dead bodies, directly or vicariously through witnessing
  • The articulation of loss and grief in the digital sphere and/or the metaverse
  • grief experienced independent of any social/familial association (eg. celebratory death)
  • the affective component(s) of  (anticipatory) grief and loss
  • affective responses to the end of life events (such as funerals, crime scenes, fatal accidents, finding a dead relative, etc.). 
  • approaches undertaken for the analysis and exploration of the composite death dynamic
  • autoethnographic writing as therapeutic 
  • autobiographical approach to making the latent visible
  • The indelibility of death on social media
  • witnessed/lived/textual ‘impurity’ of/in death
  • deathwork and the associated psychosocial challenges
  • deathwork as the “dirty work” (Eyal Press, 2021)
  • inheritance of ‘memory of death’ (through conversations, rituals, etc.)
  • autoethnography as disruptive; a birthing pool of unmanageable/untameable emotions

If you are interested in contributing please send an abstract of up to 300 words along with a brief biographical note to Khyati Tripathi (ktripathi@fas.harvard.edu) and Ian R Lamond (i.lamond@leedsbeckett.ac.uk) by December 16th, 2022. We will review all the abstracts and get back to all the contributors by January 15th, 2023.

Khyati Tripathi is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the South Asia Institute (LMSAI), Harvard University and an Assistant Professor in the School of Liberal Studies, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, India.

Ian R Lamond is a Senior Lecturer in the UK Centre for Events Management at Leeds Beckett University, UK.


Anderson, L. (2006). Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 373-95

Denshire, S. (2015). Looking like an occupational therapist: (Re)presentations of her comportment within autoethnographic tales. In B. Green & N. Hopwood (Eds.). The Body in professional practice, learning and education (pp. 227-242). New York, NY: Springer

Ellis, C. (1997). Evocative autoethnography: Writing emotionally about our lives. In Representation and the text: Re-framing the narrative voice, edited by W.G. Tierney and Y.S. Lincoln, 115-42. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Ellis, C. S., Bochner, A. P. (2006). Analyzing analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 429-49.

Ellis, C., and Rawicki, J. (2013). Collaborative witnessing of survival during the Holocaust: An exemplar of relation autoethnography. Qualitative Inquiry, 19(5), 366-80.

Ellis, C., Bochner, A. P., Rambo, C., Berry, K., Shakespeare, H., Gingrich-Philbrook, C., Adams, T. E., Rinehart, R. E., & Bolen, D. M. (2018). Coming unhinged: A twice-told multivoiced autoethnography. Qualitative Inquiry, 24(2), 119-33.

Press, E. (2021). Dirty work: Essential jobs and the hidden toll of inequality in America. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Reed-Danahay, D. (ed.) (1997). Auto/ethnography: rewriting the self and the social. Oxford: Berg.

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