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IPrA2017 Death talk
Type Conference
Categoryies (tags) EMCA, Medical EMCA
Dates - 2016/10/15
Abstract due 2016/10/15
Submission deadline
Final version due
Notification date
Tweet IPrA 2017 panel on "Talking about dying" by Ruth Parry and Marco Pino
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m.pino@lboro.ac.uk ruth.parry@nottingham.ac.uk

This panel brings together studies that take an interactional approach to death as a topic in conversation. How do people talk about dying? What norms and constraints inform their practices for initiating, managing, and closing off conversations about dying? Our panel specifically focuses on occasions where people are demonstrably orienting to the death of one of the parties to the interaction (or someone close to them) as a relevant matter or concern within the interaction; at the same time, it takes a broad approach in terms of how death can become relevant for the participants – as a topic for the conversation or as a relevant concern within specific action sequences and activities (e.g. making plans for future care).

                 This line of inquiry is timely given increasing

cultural and political trends – or even pressures – that encourage individuals to discuss, think about, and make preparations for their own dying. These trends are underpinned by assumptions that death is not discussed enough (due to cultural taboo) and that this has negative repercussions in terms of missed opportunities to prepare for one’s end. Health professionals have been called upon to encourage patients to discuss dying and communicate their wishes about the care and support they want for their end of life. There is evidence that both healthcare professionals and patients regard talk about death as important, but at the same time difficult to initiate. Conversation analytic studies showed that death is a special topic insofar as people orient to distinctive interactional norms for initiating, managing, and terminating discussions about death. Holt’s (1993) study on how people announce the death of a mutual acquaintance in informal telephone conversations shows that people recurrently follow talk about death with more positive commentaries within “bright side sequences”. Studies on healthcare interactions (in HIV counselling, oncology, and palliative medicine) show that professionals regularly hold off introducing death as a topic and instead subtly cue patients to death in ways that give them opportunities to be the fist to introduce death as a focus for the conversation (Peräkylä, 1995; Lutfey and Maynard, 1998; Pino, Parry et al., 2016).

                 This panel extends these lines of inquiry by

bringing together studies on recorded episodes of interaction where participants demonstrably treat the death of one of the parties to the interaction (or someone close to them) as a relevant topic or concern within the conversation. The studies focus on how death is managed as a conversational topic (how people initiate, progress and terminate it, or sometimes only allude to, or even avoid it) as well as the various action sequences and interactional activities within which (or related to which) death is a demonstrably relevant concern (e.g. investigating and assessing the patient’s emotional wellbeing relative to the prospect of dying; making plans for end of life care).

                 We welcome studies that employ a rigorous analytic

process based on participants’ interaction-internal displayed understandings of each other actions.


Holt E. The structure of death announcements. Text. 1993;13(2):189-212.

Lutfey K, Maynard DW. Bad news in oncology: How physician and patient talk about death and dying without using those words. Social Psychology Quarterly. 1998;61(4):321-41.

Peräkylä A. AIDS counselling: Institutional interaction and clinical practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1995.

Pino M., Parry R., Land V., Faull C., Feathers L., Seymour J. Engaging terminally ill patients in end of life talk: How experienced palliative medicine doctors navigate the dilemma of promoting discussions about dying. Plos ONE 11(5). 2016.