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Re-membering those lost: The role of materiality in narrative repair following a natural disaster

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami resulted in a tragic loss of life and immense suffering. This thesis explores the ways in which five people from Sri Lanka worked to address the disruption to their life narratives caused by the loss of loved ones as a result of this tragedy. I demonstrate that the reconstruction of life narratives does not aim to cure; instead it helps people make sense of events, and cope and live alongside the aftermath of a disaster. The theoretical framework for this research is informed by narrative research, practice theory and phronesis. Semi-structured and walk-along interview techniques were used to gather the life narratives of the five key informants. Participant accounts were situated within the community setting of the town of Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. Findings indicate that the significance of public monuments for processes of memorialisation and mourning can be contested compared to what is traditionally understood. I argue that personal material objects, symbolic spaces and everyday practices can serve as metonyms that enable participants to re-story their fractured life narratives. Everyday acts and objects also allow people to re-member loved ones and past lives lost to the tsunami. While language and texts are still important, I go beyond a focus on talk in narrative research in the field of psychology to explore the importance of material objects in sustaining continued bonds with the deceased. Traditional Anglo-American psychological approaches to disaster recovery may be successful in some communities. However, disaster psychology could become more responsive and effective with a greater consideration of the context of culture. This study provides an alternative to the tendency in mainstream psychology to pathologise grief, and highlights the importance of culturally-patterned responses to disaster. I argue that disaster psychology needs to be brought into conversation with other disciplines in order to fully understand how survivors of a tragedy can draw on cultural and community-based resources to build resilience in the face of grief and loss.
Type of thesis
Cassim, S. (2013). Re-membering those lost: The role of materiality in narrative repair following a natural disaster (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7850
University of Waikato
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