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Remembering Michael Stone: Crafting Digital Testimonies of Grief from the Opioid Overdose Crisis


Remembering Michael Stone: Crafting Digital Testimonies of Grief from the Opioid Overdose Crisis

Goodman, Aaron Michael (2019) Remembering Michael Stone: Crafting Digital Testimonies of Grief from the Opioid Overdose Crisis. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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An opioid overdose crisis is spreading across North America. In 2017, over 4,000 people experienced drug-related deaths in Canada. The highest number of fatal overdoses have occurred in British Columbia (B.C.), where in 2017, the Coroner’s Service reported over 1,400 fatalities linked to drugs. This was a significant increase from 985 overdose deaths in 2016, 518 in 2015, and 369 in 2014.
Photojournalists and documentary photographers are drawing attention to the situation, but many of their images reflect a longstanding tradition of problematic and stigmatizing visual reporting. In many photographs, people who use drugs, and increasingly individuals who experience overdoses, are portrayed as exotic and dangerous social outcasts. Visual narratives of this nature also fail to communicate that people from all sectors of society are being affected by the crisis.

In July 2017, B.C.-based meditation and yoga instructor, writer, and activist Michael Stone, died from an opioid overdose. It was later revealed he suffered from bipolar disorder. Over the year following Michael’s death, I collaborated with his wife, Carina Stone, and two of his closest friends and meditation students, Rose Riccio and Andréa de Keijzer. Inspired by participatory methodologies developed by oral historians and certain documentary filmmakers with the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada, I assisted my interlocutors in recording nuanced and personal audio testimonies about their memories of Michael, their ongoing connections to him, and their experiences of grief. Together with my collaborators, we produced a digital memorial titled Losing Michael using Klynt as a non-linear platform.

I was particularly interested in experimenting with oral historian Henry Greenspan’s method of collaborative testimony, which he describes as “learning together” (2010a, p. xii) and “knowing with” (2010a, p. 230), as well as the narrative approach and continuing bonds theory from counselling psychology. I also used autoethnography in order to explore how my mother’s mental illness, prolonged disappearance in my youth, and death have impacted me. Reflecting on these personal experiences allowed me to assist my interlocutors in creating their narratives with a sense of compassion.

The purpose of this project is to resist dominant narratives about the opioid crisis and individuals who have experienced drug-related overdoses. The intention is also to help create awareness about the ramifications of these deaths for decedents’ loved ones and communities. Simultaneously, the project aims to highlight how many individuals who use drugs and experience overdoses suffer from mental health issues, and that there is a need for more early intervention programs for vulnerable people. Losing Michael can be accessed at the following URL: www.losingmichael.com

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Communication Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Goodman, Aaron Michael
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:1 February 2019
Thesis Supervisor(s):Jiwani, Yasmin
Keywords:opioid crisis, Michael Stone, digital memorial, heroin, Downtown Eastside, photography, journalism, communication studies
ID Code:985237
Deposited On:07 Jun 2019 16:37
Last Modified:07 Jun 2019 16:37
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