“Eish!”: an autoethnographic investigation of the impact of mortality on identity in Cato Manor

Nicole Stephan, SIT Study Abroad

South Africa: Community Health and Social Policy


Attempting to come to terms with one’s mortality and its implications is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. The process of dying is, at its core, a loss of control, and forces us to evaluate the meaning behind our experience and how our existence can continue to impact the physical world after our biological life ends. It has been shown in previous studies that finding meaning from life is highly correlated to memories that are associated with tension or conflict, and particularly mortality. The power in mortality lies in the fact that confronting this phenomenon requires the revision and reorganization of an individual’s identity, a goal that can be achieved using narrative techniques. In this study, I investigated if playing an active role in determining one’s identity and legacy before death allows an individual to reclaim control and derive continuity and meaning from their life. Through narrative interviews with community members from Cato Manor, a township in Durban, I have learned about the ways in which we tell our stories, understand life and death, and plan our legacies. I have outlined the lessons I learned from other’s experiences through a reflexive autoethnographic approach. As a result, I have obtained a better understanding of myself through my research and the planning of a tangible representation of myself that can carry on a sense of my identity and legacy.