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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reaching wide and deep : public pedagogy of death and dying in Canada Ryu, Hyunok


Learning about death and dying is important because they are aspects of life we will all have to face. This learning is increasingly important as we are dying longer, mostly isolated and hidden behind the walls of medical or care facilities. To prevent breakdowns following a terminal diagnosis or a loved one’s death, and also to live a fuller life, keeping a sense of mortality close is crucial, which is what death education primarily aims to achieve. I studied established “public death educators” in Canada—those educating the general public in the public domain—to understand precisely what messages they are disseminating about death and dying, how they educate the public, and why they educate the way they do. I conducted a critical realist multi-case study through observing the educators’ practices and conducting in-depth interviews. I used theories of public pedagogy and thanatological cultural niches as my theoretical framework. The three cases of death education I studied focused on distinctively different aspects of death and dying, namely, the groundwork for end-of-life planning, the practical matters of doing a home funeral, and the sophisticated construction of why the culture of death and dying is the way it is. I found that public death educators use a variety of pedagogic tools to disorient people from widespread misconceptions around death and dying; to help them contemplate death; and to prompt them to live and love fully. These educators also differ in the ways they interact with the public. Importantly, these differences are rooted in their relational and ethical principles. Despite these differences, the educators share the belief that all of us are bound to one another by our mortality and that we share social responsibilities around death and dying. Based on these tenets, I consider how having a keen sense of mortality might contribute to the field of adult education and also to having solidarity with all beings, human and nonhuman.

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