Cake and death: three death cafes in South Africa

Heald, Justine Carla (2020-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis is concerned with three Death Cafés (DC) in South Africa and the individuals that gave shape to and engaged with these DCs.The DC is an international movement and social franchise that was founded in 2011 in London, that aims to break the social “taboo” around discussing death and dying. The DC is held in pop-up locations, where individuals can come together, eat cake and discuss death. In common with the DC’s audience, academic literature has long held that people in the West did not talk about death and had an uncomfortable relationship with it. The DC has grown enormously popular in various countries throughout the world since then and in 2017 reached South African shores. Within a year, eight DCs and a Facebook DC had sprung up in the country. It attracted mainly white people, particularly people who were trying to defy there pressive boundaries of what it meant to be white. I did ethnographic research on two DCs in Cape Town and approached the DC’s Facebook site netnographically. At the Kenilworth DC, held at a Buddhist centre, the core group of attendees knew one another well and talked about death and dying in ways that conformed to a self-authorising New Ageist practice that embraced alternative, spiritual paths and “journeys”. The Woodstock DC, my other fieldsite, looked very different. Here, a changing group of creative and academic attendees spoke about death in decidedly secular ways, often using humour. Their use of humour served on the one hand to set the living apart from the “foolish” dead and from an outside, (white) public that supposedly repressed talk around the topic of death. Online, the Facebook DC was a very different ‘social’ space that was largely defined by the memes, quotes and photos that users shared about death while community interaction was minimal. On Facebook, the DC was again a largely white group of people, with a number of participans also active in physical DCs. Here, talk about death was largely taken over by visuals that dealt with death while users usually only engaged other users over controversial topics. Given that the DC falls under the recent “deathpositive” movement, my research situates whether or not these traditionally ‘taboo’ notions of death and dying were changing for white South Africans? This thesis troubles that supposed taboo in terms of deaths prominence within the language of infotainment commodities. What we see here, even in a small death-positive group, are salient internal diversity and divisions. It outline show the Death Café serves to soften this supposed taboo, and the ways in which these groups consciously transgress the boundaries of what it means to be properly white.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die volgende proefskrif handel oor drie Doodskafees(DK) sowel oor die invididue wat betrokke was by en gestalte gegee het aan hierdie Die Doodskafees. Die DK is ‘n internasionale beweging-en sosiale konsessie wat in 2011 in Londen gestig is en ten doel het om die sosiale “taboe” rondom die bespreking van die dood en sterwe te breek. Die DK word in “pop-up” plekke gehou waar individue kan saamkom, koek eet en die dood bespreek. In gemeen met die DK se gehoor het akademiese literatuur al lank geglo dat mense in die Weste nie oor die dood gepraat het nie en ongemaklike verhouding daarmee gehad het. Sedertdien het die DK in verskillende lande regoor die wêreld gewild geword en in 2017 Suid-Afrikaanse oewers bereik. Binne'n jaar het agt DK’s sowel as ‘n DK op Facebook in die land ontstaan. Dit het veral wit mense aangetrek–veral mense wat probeer het om die onderdrukkende grense van wat dit beteken om wit te wees, te trotseer. Ek het etnografiese navorsing oor twee DK’s in Kaapstad gedoen en die DK se Facebook webtuiste netnografies benader. In die DK in Kenilworth wat in ‘n Boeddhistiese sentrum gehou word, het die kerngroep deelnemers mekaar goed geken en gepraat oor die dood en sterf op maniere wat ooreenstem met 'n“New-Age”-istiese praktyk wat alternatiewe, geestelike paaie en‘ reise’ insluit. Die DK in Woodstock, my ander veldwerk, het heel anders gelyk. Hier het 'n veranderende groep kreatiewe en akademiese deelnemers op sekulêre maniere oor die dood gepraat en dikwels van humor gebruik gemaak. Hul gebruik van humor het enersyds gedien om die lewendes te onderskei van die “dwase” dooies en van 'n buitestaande,“wit” publiek wat kwansuis die onderwerp van dood onderdruk het. Aanlyn was die DK op Facebook 'n heel ander ‘sosiale‘ ruimte wat grotendeels gedefinieer is deur die“memes”, aanhalings en fotos wat verbruikers oor die dood gedeel het, terwyl gemeenskapsinteraksie minimaal was.Op Facebook was die DK weer 'n grotendeels blanke groep mense met 'n aantal deelnemers wat ook aktief was in 'n fisiese DK. Hier is die praatjies oor die dood grotendeels oorgeneem deur beeldmaterial wat handel oor die dood, terwyl verbruikers gewoonlik net ander verbruikers oor kontroversiële onderwerpe betrek het. Aangesien die DK onder die onlangse “doodspositiewe” beweging val”, bepaal my navorsing of hierdie tradisionele ‘taboe’-opvattings oor die dood en sterwe vir wit Suid-Afrikaners verander het. Hierdie proefskrif steur die veronderstelde taboe in terme van sterftes in die taal van inligtingstukke. Wat ons hier sien, selfs in ‘n kleindoodspositiewegroep in Suid-Afrika, is 'n opvallende interne diversiteit en verdeeldheid. Dit gee ‘n uiteensetting van hoe die Doodskafee hierdie vermeende taboe versag, en die maniere waarop hierdie groepe die grense van wat dit beteken om werklik wit te wees, bewustelik oorskry.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/109100
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