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The Death of a Child: Institutional Maintenance of Family Welfare after the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake in the People's Republic of China

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Within the institution of family welfare in the People's Republic of China, the role of the child as future caregiver is so deeply institutionalized as to be almost invisible to policy makers and family members. This article explores institutional responses to the death of a child after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake to demonstrate how this taken-for-grantedness of the child caregiver role has opened up bereaved parents to social risk, and how actors must perform institutional work to "repair the breach" of the loss of a child in a family. Findings show that after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, policy actors took steps to manipulate entrenched family welfare resources, including the population and family planning regulations, to enable bereaved parents to have another child. In so doing, they sought to patch and restore meaning to the family welfare institution, enabling it to continue autopoiesis and resist institutional change in the face of exogenous shock. Use of policy and the positive representation of the policy outcomes in the state-led media enabled sensegiving to be imbued into an otherwise emotionally conflicted decision to try to conceive again soon after the loss of a child.
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Keywords: BEREAVED PARENTS; INSTITUTIONAL MAINTENANCE; SENSEMAKING; SHIDU FAMILIES; WENCHUAN EARTHQUAKE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2020

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