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Thanatology and its thesis of the repression of death: a discursive and generic analysis

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posted on 03.06.2019 by Irina Romanova
This thesis examines the emergence of thanatology as a discipline, paying particular attention to the key thanatological theme that death has become a taboo topic in modern society and to the rhetorical construction of early thanatological texts. In order to study these issues, the thesis uses a variety of different methods. First I used corpus linguistic methodology to study the way repression proper was constructed in Time magazine, one of the most popular American news magazines of the time. This analysis showed that by the late 1950-early 1960s when thanatology had emerged as a discipline, the concept of repression proper had not completely lost its ties with psychoanalysis and had not become an integral part of ordinary discourse. Also, in the 1950s repression was often constructed as a pathology and this perception was shared by the early thanatological authors.
In analyzing the publications by Geoffrey Gorer and Herman Feifel, the two important authors for the early history of the discipline, the methods of Discursive and Rhetorical Psychology, Critical Discourse Analysis and Genre Analysis were used, especially to analyse in discursive depth the essay “The Pornography of Death” by Geoffrey Gorer (1955) and the volume The Meaning of Death (1959) edited by Herman Feifel. Geoffrey Gorer in his essay “The Pornography of Death” contributed to the dissemination of the notion of repression and introduced to the public discourse the idea of the repression of death, death being the new taboo. Herman Feifel in his volume The Meaning of Death introduced the idea of repression of death as a characteristic feature of the Western society to the scholarly literature of the 1950s and 1960s. Feifel based his construction of the taboo on death on that of Gorer and legitimized the essay “The Pornography of Death” as a part of scholarly discourse on death. Using genre analysis it can be seen that neither the essay by Gorer, nor the volume The Meaning of Death can be viewed as conventional scholarly texts. Thus death studies as a scientific discipline can be viewed as originating at the essentially public level of communication. This has wider implications for understanding how new disciplines can be constructed and promoted both within and beyond the academic world.



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Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


Loughborough University

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© Irina Romanova

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Loughborough University.




Michael Billig

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