Continuing bonds between the living and the dead in contemporary Western societies: Implications for our understandings of death and the experience of death anxiety

Edith Maria Steffen, Elaine Kasket

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter takes the starting point that the fear of death is in part determined by how we relate to our dead and how we conceptualise death, suggesting that cultural factors play an important role in the creation and maintenance of death anxiety. Relevant cultural considerations include ontological questions about the way we define constructs such as reality, life and death and socio-cultural questions about whether, for example, we see the dead and the living from an individualistic perspective as separate entities or from a collectivist perspective as connected and what implications this may have for how we relate to our dead. Since the early 20th century, modern Western societies could be said to have had the tendency to sever links with their deceased ancestors. A more collectivist view is represented by the continuing bonds perspective, an interdisciplinary socio-cultural perspective that has become an influential new paradigm within bereavement scholarship over the past two decades. In this chapter, we aim to show how the continuing bonds perspective can add a broadening dimension to Western understandings of death and thus help reconceptualise what death can mean, which may to some extent mitigate against a fear of a death that is seen as a complete disconnection and as devoid of any sense of continuation. As an example of a new way of extending life beyond death, a special focus of this chapter is on digital forms of survival and the crafting of continuing bonds through social media.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCuring the dread of death: Theory, research and practice
PublisherAustralian Academic Press
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Cite this