Mourning and Disaster: Finding Meaning in the Mourning for Hillsborough and Diana
Author: Michael Brennan
Date Of Publication: May 2008
The Hillsborough stadium disaster of 15 April 1989 and the death of Princess Diana on 31 August 1997 sparked expressivist scenes of public mourning hitherto unseen within the context of British society. The largely local displays of grief witnessed on Merseyside following the Hillsborough disaster were, however, repeated and provided a pre-text for the national (and global) public mourning which accompanied the death of Princess Diana. What was it, this book asks, about the Hillsborough disaster and death of Princess Diana that provoked such strong emotions? Why and how did these ostensibly similar events produce such contrasting reactions, moving some people, including the book’s author, to mourn one event but resist the mourning for the other?
Mourning and Disaster provides an insight into a series of questions raised by the public mourning that followed these two events. What, for example, do the messages contained in the public books of condolence signed in the wake of these events tell us either about the social identities of the people who mourned or about the processes of meaning-making by which death is apprehended and understood? What do condolence books tell us about how contemporary society mourns and the ways in which loss is languaged? Is it the case that, in episodes of public mourning in which the deceased are not known to us personally, the mourner might actually be mourning some aspect of themselves? Is it also the case that in not mourning these events some aspect of one’s own identity or self was being repudiated or mourned? Drawing upon both the public books of condolence signed in Britain during the public mourning for these events, alongside the author’s own autobiographical memories of them, it is to these sorts of questions, amongst others, that this book seeks to provide answers.
Michael Brennan is an ESRC Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick. He has written widely on the topic of mourning and loss in journals including Death Studies, Mortality and Sociology Review.
"'Mourning and Disaster' offers an original and deeply resonant cultural analysis of public mourning. Focusing on the events surrounding the stadium disaster at Hillsborough and the unprecedented global response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, this book examines powerful articulations of politics and emotion, memory and community embedded not only in public spectacle, but also in the ineffable private losses and acts of memorialisation that can be summoned by distant disaster. This book marks a significant contribution to a burgeoning field of work interested in the psychic and cultural, as well as social and political dimensions of mourning practices.”
-- Dr Deborah Lynn Steinberg, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry,UK
“Mourning and Disaster takes a fresh and searching look at two familiar instances of public mourning. Through textual analysis of condolence books and his innovative auto-ethnographic method, Brennan give us new insights into the relations of private grief and public remembrance, a key issue for our disaster-stricken times.”
-- Prof. Richard Johnson, Prof. Cultural Studies, Nottingham Trent University - retired
"Brennan writes in the sociology academic space, and does not examine the media studies angle.
Alongside the core research, the book is equally valuable as an excellent introduction to the history of sociology and psychology in regard to death and loss, which is technical but accessible for those not from this part of the academy. It also has a useful methodological section that might help those considering undertaking this type of research.
Prof. Michael Ashby, Professor of Palliative Care, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tasmania, Grief Matters, Volume 13/ number 3, Summer 2010, pg87
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