Friday, December 17, 2010

Master’s Thesis | Performing Impressionistic Autoethnographic Narrative in Text and Pixels to Explore Fear of Death in End-of-Life Care-Giving Contexts

Hi Colleagues,

Here I post my Final Draft of my Master's Thesis for my MA in Communication and Leadership Studies with Gonzaga UniversityThe National Communication Association (NCA) awarded my program the prestigious "Innovative Program of the Year" (2010) award for its "strong focus, high-quality teaching, and attention to service as features that raised it above the competition (ComL Online)."  Watch the NCA awards presentation ceremonyLearn about my research and consulting at Dena Rosko and Text and Pixels.

Bouquet Grandma made from her garden calla lilies years ago (above)

Read the Abstract and Production NotesVisit The Living Memorial to participate with a project that I created as an outcome of my Thesis findings.  Interact with the full blog "Remembrance" text of this ThesisRead my reflection on this program and thesis process, my orals presentation (December 10, 2010), and my Thesis Seminar posts and access my reference list. To access the Thesis Full Text [PDF], click the link below, read the embedded document, or download the file.

Full Text [PDF]:


This study explores fear of death in end-of-life caregiving contexts via impressionistic autoethnographic narrative as performed on a blog with photographs and poems.  This study relies on ethical assumptions for communicating dialogue, confirmation, and a performance narrative ethos in end of life.  This study employs Terror Management Theory to identify a gap in existing empirical fear and death studies, and fills that gap by embedding its framework and method in the psychotherapeutic tradition to foster creative freedom and psychological safety and so break the cultural silence shrouding grief.  Key findings show that the blog coordinated a therapeutic process to assuage death fears, but that other virtues besides fear performed in the text.  These outcomes benefit narrative healthcare.  Implications include leading for affective and spiritual healing and communicating compassion, creativity, and love.  Recommendations for future research involve partnering with technology organizations, the arts, and social sciences to design communication systems to benefit people in healthcare organizations.

Keywords: fear studies, death studies, Terror Management Theory, performance, narrative, narrative healthcare, holistic leadership, dialogue, confirmation, impressionistic autoethnography, techno-cultural studies, cyber studies, photography, writing, blog 

Production Notes

I Revised and Tightened my thesis considerably as I researched, collaborated with my director and mentor, and wrote over the course of 4 months.  I Delivered Orals on December 10, 2010 via conference call with faculty and peers.  After the program assistant mailed me the Signature Page, I submitted my Thesis to UMI/Proquest to Bind/Print (January 14, 2011) so that it can join the tomes of amazing works at Foley's Theses Library.

I responded to my thesis director, Nobuya’s, comments to clarify my ethical assumptions on dialogue, confirmation, and performance narrative ethos (Chp2), and to describe my method (Chp1).  I decided to keep the background paragraph (Chp1) as I felt it a storytelling hook for this study and a relevant step that shows what narrative experiences led me to this study's approach.  My goal in these efforts included making the text more readable and approachable to people unfamiliar with my method and ethical assumptions.  I opted to keep the Implications section in Chp5 to honor this program.

I added and tightened an Abstract and Keywords (November 30, 2010; December 9/14, 2010).  To refer my findings back to my research questions, I added, revised, and tightened a the Study and Findings Summary in Chp4 (December 1/3/6/9/11/14/17, 2010).  I added the Compassion theme to Chp4 as a "praxis of love" to relate findings to implications.  I expanded and edited recommendations for research (Chp5, December 10/14/17, 2010), implications for Communication and Leadership (December 15/17, 2010), and formatted Appendix C to match this study’s font.  I edited and revised Chps 1-2 (December 6, 2010), Chps 3-5 (December 7/15, 2010), Author's Note (December 7, 2010), the analysis strategy section in Chp3 (December 14/15, 2010), and Chp5 (December 4/11/15/17, 2010).

I updated the reference list (December 2, 2010).  I revised the Conclusion (December 9, 2010).  I added to my Acknowledgments page (December 8/14, 2010), which I consider the most important and delightful part of the thesis.  

I revised and simplified the Study Disclosure form to read as an advisory with the option to contact me since I included samples post scriptum (see Appendices B-D, December 17, 2010, April 5, 2011).  It also made sense to utilize online channels to disclose the study as I produced the study's narrative samples online.  I emailed or Facebook messaged, depending on the contact channel, persons whose identities I included via photographs in Appendix E.  

Ethical imperatives to disclose research include fidelity to relationship, fairness and honesty in use of personally identifiable information (PII), responsibility to researcher’s power to empower in research, and an ethos for care, participation, and service via humility and the knowledge that my research is both public and private.  For reciprocity, I shared images with impacted and accessible persons in advance or at the time of disclosure via CD, blog post, Facebook album, and/or email file attachment.  In other words, it is important to me to honor fidelity and fairness in my relationships with people, including myself, by researching with an ethic of care.  For this study, an ethic of care includes disclosing how I use information about others, even if it is only one or a few photographs, and sharing those photographs for people's personal use and enjoyment.  In the absence of contact information, I verbally disclosed the study face-to-face.

In all of these ethical considerations, I assume that the public and private life blur, that our actions in private influence the public and vice-versa, so I do not hold purely to a belief that people have a "right" to privacy or publicity; rather, I believe it important to communicate with an ethic of care regarding needs, wants, expectations, and preferences involving information usage.  We can be more mindful of what we say and do in difficult times, that though we feel at our worst, we must be at our best.  I find that this public service mindset potentially and ideally imparts freedom yet challenges and benefits my research and relationships in an on and offline world where any text becomes a record.  I doubt that in this life ethical tensions will resolve in research, especially research involving end of life and that involving PII.  In my thesis, I suggest that research must appreciate this tension because the tension reminds us to research with dialogue, confirmation, and care, each of which acknowledge and regard people based on who we are as situated in relationships and in a larger culture, society, and politic.

I edited line breaks for "widows/orphans," and tightened paragraphs that had up to 5 words dangling in the final sentence (December 15/17, 2010).  These moves improved aesthetics and readability.  I changed much in the last two weeks of the seminar, and I think this draft reads more cohesively than prior drafts.  Since deleting and revising content from prior drafts, I cut 35 pages.  Core content (i.e., excluding Title, Signature and Acknowledgment pages, TOC, Abstract, Appendices, References, and Author’s Note) runs 136 pages (up 14 pages from 122 on November 29, 2010 and down 32 from my highest count of 168 pages making an edited difference of 22, which I expect to change week 16 as I anticipate receiving full draft comments from my prof... yup, it changed... again!).

I received and responded to final feedback from my thesis director (December 15, 2010), which included relating my findings to performance narrative framework, describing if and how the process healed me, ensuring that I related my method and limitations/assets discussion to findings and vice-versa, and correcting technical errors such as spelling out numbers, contractions, adjusting line breaks, and italicizing questions.  I checked APA in the reference list, and left out state names from major cities (e.g., New York) and "Press" out of publisher names as APA is all about efficiency.  I responded to his feedback by revising sections or paragraphs in Chps3-5.  Thankfully, I had already addressed many of my director's comments through previous edits.

From here on out, I envision tightening the draft as I work with the program coordinator to print, publish, and ship a copy to Foley Library.  I prepared for orals by editing and tightening the thesis and I verified and edited the reference list (December 8, 2010; January 3/4, 2011).  I created an alphabetic table and systematically went through each page, wrote the last name in the appropriate column, then went through the ref list.  I added at least 10 missing, removed 6, and corrected typos, transpositions, mis-spellings, and those pesky over achievers who publish several times a year (1997a; 1997b)... for a grand total of ~ 295 references (29.5 pages w/an average of 10 references/page).  I then created a blog post linked to book titles.  Each of these steps helped me to tidy my reference list.  Many people to coordinate, but they contributed to my work:  Thank you!

Verifying references also challenged me to tighten each paragraph to keep page titles and sections aesthetic (at the top or w/no less than 3 lines from page to page).  I've updated my reference list all semester, but verifying them as a whole turned out to be a good exercise to polish the work after editing the chapters for content.

Total visits to the text:  a whopping 83 (thesis seminar) + 4 (proposal) + 18 (applied research) =  105!  Assume that each visit took 1 day of 7 hours on average (do the math!).  That many times I wrote, edited, revised, updated, researched, added, reviewed professor and mentor feedback, revised, tightened, and then began the process all over again amid conference calls and other coursework and courses.  Summer and Fall 2010 I doubled my load to graduate by December 2010.  I prayed a lot.  I'm grateful I did and know I did not accomplish this feat on my own:  many people including God guided my journey.  I also worked hard, ranging from 5-16 hour days, even once or twice working in the wee hours when I could not sleep.  Do not fret:  frequency N page/hour counting is as quantitative as I get! :)  A formative journey+an MA has been well worth the effort!

An amusing note:  The bound copy contains an error on pg. 141.  The line should read "computer mediated communication," but instead reads, "computer medicated communication."  I caught this typo after I had ordered the bound copies for the library.  The irony:  either variant matches my study's topic!  I argue that the digital arts helped me to work through my grief/fears, so in a sense, the computer both mediated and medicated.  I write via voice dictation software.  Dragon Naturally Speaking, my software of choice, appears to have had the last laugh!  Perhaps there's more to this learning software than appears.  It had heard me talk on the subject for at least 43 transcription Mp3 files, excluding the many synchronous writing sessions.  It seems the software understood. :D  In any case, I corrected the online version.

My mentor and director have signed off on my thesis.  I scheduled my Orals (presentation) with the Program Assistant.  Orals took place via a conference call Friday 12/10/10 at 6:40pm PST (I was first up!).  There were ~9 students presenting with faculty or guests as audience and respondents.  Read more about Orals!  Access the Orals Handout that I created (Title Page and Abstract, December 8 2010) and Orals Presentation Notes (December 9, 2010).  I appreciated your prayers and participation that contributed to a successful, beneficial, clear, and meaningful delivery and experience for everyone!  Said one colleague, "Thank you for setting the tone for everyone with such an intelligent and energetic presentation!"  Thanks much!

Finally, I classify the narrative as intermedia, meaning it includes poems, photographs, and a blog production, making the text more complex than any one image can convey, though I note that one particular image from the burial service influenced my experience and findings.  I chose the Calla Lily Bouquet photograph for this post as it nods to Grandma's creativity and to avoid appearing to over-represent the thesis with one image from the samples. In keeping with intermedia production, I added the image to aestheticize the Popular Posts feed (sidebar left).

Thank you for reading! 

Please Attribute

Rosko, D.M. (2010). Master's thesis: Performing impressionistic autoethnographic narrative in Text and Pixels to explore fear of death in end-of-life care-giving contexts (Master thesis). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (1492736)

Author’s Note

Please visit The Living Memorial at (give me a "Like" on Facebook!) to learn more about healing in loss via faith, remembrance, and the digital and performance arts.  I designed this site as an outcome of my Thesis (access all posts labeled "Thesis").  Also interact with the full blog "Remembrance" text of my Thesis.  Keep in touch with my endeavors at Dena Rosko and Text and Pixels.