Chch attacks prompt 'online care' study

Social anthropologist Susan Wardell, of the University of Otago, is conducting a study on online...
Social anthropologist Susan Wardell, of the University of Otago, is conducting a study on online tributes following the attacks in Christchurch. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
From flowers to poignant notes and wreaths, tributes in the aftermath of a tragedy traditionally take tangible forms.

However, these days it is also possible to express grief and solidarity with someone else through the click of a button.

University of Otago social anthropologist Dr Susan Wardell is studying the phenomenon of "online care'' after the mosque shootings in Christchurch last month, in which 50 people died.

"One of my areas is the concept of grief and ritual,'' she said.

"[Online support] looks a little different, but it is kind of a ritual procedure.''

The internet was no longer a place where you just absorbed what was going on around you, but you made ``little choices'' to connect with others or indicate your affiliations or views through the click of a mouse.

Dr Wardell was hoping to get a mixture of Muslims and non-Muslims, but would speak to anyone who wanted to talk about how they had engaged with digital media following the shootings.

"I've deliberately left it broad at this stage,'' she said.

She was aware that the pain of the attacks was still raw and was initially unsure whether to proceed with the study.

"It's not always the space for us [academics] to play in and analyse things,'' she said.

However, anthropologists were trained to try to understand the social world, and she felt in the end it was her role to study the subject, Dr Wardell said.

She would focus on speaking to 20 or 30 people, and she wanted to "go deep'' rather than ``go wide''.

Already people had approached her saying they were interested in the study, and they were not the people you might expect - Dr Wardell said while she had had interest from teens, she had also had an 80-year-old come forward.

She would get the project concluded by November this year, when she was to present a paper at the American Anthropological Association conference in Vancouver.

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