Some Die Young

Narratives of Loss, Mental illness, Substance abuse, and Masculinity

  • Kim Silow Kallenberg The Department of Culture and Media Studies, Umeå University
Keywords: autoethnography, protest masculinity, violence, interactive interviews, power, powerlessness


This is an ethnographic and an autoethnographic study based on qualitative interviews as well as memories and experiences of the author. It focuses on two men that were childhood friends of the author and who both died prematurely. Marcus died in November 2013 while he was under psychiatric care due to auditory hallucinations and anxiety. Noel died little over a year later, in January 2015, from an overdose of heroin. The aim of the article is to analyse the narratives of women and is concerned with understanding the loss of a son, a brother, or a former boyfriend or friend due to substance abuse or mental health problems. The empirical cases analysed in this text are women’s understandings of the deaths of Marcus and Noel – two young men who were close to them in different ways. Their narratives about the men, their memories, and their rationalisations for what happened to them are analysed.   The analysis shows that when the women talk about, and try to explain, the male lives that led up to the death, a limited number of narratives are available. Narratives about absent and/or abusive fathers, narratives about mothers who fail in providing the expected care, and narratives about shortcomings in psychiatric services and community support are dominant in the analysed material. In relation to these available narratives, the story follows the making of a protest masculinity in which elements such as rock star dreams, violence, drug use, and talk of legalising drugs have a place. Together they form an overarching narrative about protest masculinity; i.e. ways to act in reaction to a perceived alienation or subordination by acting out in ways associated with masculinity.

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