Recovering normal: A qualitative study of grief following bereavement

Pearce, Caroline (2016). Recovering normal: A qualitative study of grief following bereavement. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the notion of 'recovery' from grief following bereavement and answers the question, what happens when people 'fail' to recover? Researchers and practitioners promote a linear, staged, 'normal course' of grief, yet people who fail to follow this course are understood as experiencing 'complicated grief': a form of psychiatric disorder. In particular, the thesis explores the debates and issues around the highly contested notion of recovery from grief, drawing on an analysis of the theory and policy of grief and recovery, and empirical qualitative interview data from bereavement care practitioners and bereaved people in England. Arguing for the acknowledgment of the experience of 'non-recovery', this thesis draws on a Foucauldian approach to problematise the notion of recovery, highlighting how 'recovery' is a socially constructed notion linked to the individualised vision of health and happiness promoted by neoliberal governmentality.

The study concentrates on three areas: the political and cultural factors that 'frame' grief and recovery in England; how grief is managed, through the example of bereavement counselling, and the ways in which bereaved people make sense of grief. The findings of this study present the experience of grief as one of navigating a 'liminal space'. Recovery from grief was achieved or resisted through the negotiation of a variety of political, medical and social discourses. These discourses provided guidelines for the bereaved person, where they were encouraged to make sense of grief, engage in certain practices and work towards the building of new identities, in order to recover from grief. Further, through the incorporation of 'non-recovery' this study proposes an alternative way of theorising grief, arguing for the need to emphasise the relational and embodied aspects of grief.

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