THE VIRTUAL WAKE IN BRAZIL – THE UNKNOWN STRANGER AS A VECTOR FOR THE ONLINE DISCUSSION OF DEATH AND DYING
Andréia Martins, University of Bath - England
This paper aims to show the interactions between users of a Brazilian social network group that often watch virtual wakes of strangers. The virtual wake is the real-time, online transmission of the wake, which comprises, in the Brazilian culture, the period of 12 to 24 hours spent with the body before burial or cremation. Since the end of the 19th century, the wake stopped being a community event and became a private moment, shared only by friends and family. The Virtual Wake is offered since 2001 as an alternative to friends and family who cannot be physically present at the wake, to overcome distance. However, some funerary companies keep the access to their cameras also open to the general public who never knew the deceased that’s being waked. The online group, called “Dead people profiles” was created in 2004 in a social network called Orkut, as a space dedicated to listing the profiles and causes of death of the users of that very social network. Nevertheless, in 2007, it also became a space for viewing the virtual wakes through those open-access cameras. In the group space, the members also discuss their personal experiences with death and dying and the conduction of the wake as a ritual according to Brazilian-Catholic standards. After migrating from Orkut to Facebook in 2011, the group is adopting different forms of interactions, along with the advance of technology. The members’ points of view on the virtual wakes and general interactions related to discussing death online were analysed during a participant observation period and private online interviews in 2013, as part of an ethnographic work for my Master's degree in Anthropology. Since September 2014, a further study of this group was initiated as part of my PhD thesis in Sociology. This paper also intends to draft a representation of the Virtual Wake as a possibility to deal with death and dying. Therefore, grasping the concept that this exposure of the ritual and the body, now considered atypical, can act as a bridge re-connecting the Brazilian culture to its communal aspects of yesterday.