A generative metaphor: Dying and death in young children’s imaginative play by Rachel Rosen


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A generative metaphor: Dying and death in young children’s imaginative play by Rachel Rosen a presentation from the BSA Sociology of Death, Dying and Bereavement Study Group Symposium on 15 November 2013.

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A generative metaphor: Dying and death in young children’s imaginative play by Rachel Rosen

  1. 1. A generative metaphor: Dying and death in young children’s imaginative play Rachel Rosen, r.rosen@ioe.ac.uk
  2. 2. Kaltrina pointed into the distance and shrieked: ‘A monster! Hide in my house!’ The group of children she had been with ran to the treed area at the back of the outdoor area. Once inside the junglehouse, the ‘doorbell’ at the bottom of the muddy hill started ringing. Kaltrina ran to open the ‘door’ and many more children came in seeking refuge from the monster. Maribel joined the children running into the open door. Once settled in safely, her eyes rolled back in her head until her lids fluttered closed and she slithered to the ground. ‘I’m dead,’ she whispered, lying motionless in the centre of the jungle house. Nasra responded shyly, ‘I’ll be the doctor,’ mixing potions and pouring the invisible substances into Maribel’s mouth as well as giving her mimed ‘injections’ in various parts of her body. Despite these extensive ministrations, Maribel did not move or blink. Mark came roaring in with an ambulance siren blaring and set to work on Maribel, pumping up and down on her stomach. Nonetheless, he couldn’t revive her either. Seeing the action, Tanveer fell to the ground crying, ‘I’m dying; I’m dying,’ and then lay stretched out on the ground, completely still with his eyes closed. Peter and Nandan soon followed, sliding to the ground in ‘death position’. Abdul-dog rushed over on his hands and knees growling and puffing, bearing down on Tanveer. ‘Hey,’ shouted Tanveer angrily, pushing the dog off. Abdul-dog whimpered and rubbed against my leg. ‘My fire makes them better,’ he replied plaintively referring to his hot fiery breath. Tanveer relented: ‘Ok, just a small one.’ He returned to his motionless, supine position as Abdul blew his fiery breath.
  3. 3. Literal accounts of death play • Developmentally unable to understand that death is irreversible and has a cause (e.g. Cox, Garrett and Graham, 2004) • Mode in which children construct understandings about mortality and death rites (Lofdahl, 2005) • Form of catharsis (Goldstein, 1995; Holland, 2003)
  4. 4. Limitations of literal views of death play • Catharsis and meaning-making not assured • Assumes Deficit view of childhood • Play as a transformative interaction unsettles literal interpretations
  5. 5. Play: a contestive act • ‘To play is to interrupt the flow of events, to seize themes from those and other settings, and to apprehend these themes in distinctive ways.’ (Henricks, 2006: 185) • Ambiguous (Sutton-Smith, 1997) • The enactment of movable meanings which reconfigure the world in new ways
  6. 6. Death as a generative metaphor • Generative metaphor (Schön, 1993) • Uncertainty: position, continued participation, and level of influence over the narrative • Dying/death productive of sustained emotional and physical attentions to the ‘corpse’
  7. 7. Death to provoke caring touch • Touch permissible • Touch demanded • Embodied invitation for physical proximity and touch issued to peers
  8. 8. Implications of death trope in play Strains at: • reduction of social relations to terms of economic calculation motivated by self-interest (Sevenhuijsen, 1998) • individualism with its emphasis on corporeal containment (Elias, 1994) Young children as capable of ‘attentiveness’ (Tronto, 1989: 177)
  9. 9. Implications for the everyday world • Possibilities for adults and children to make sense of the difficult and challenging nature of death and bereavement together • Value of caring