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Mourning and Disaster: Finding Meaning in the Mourning for Hillsborough and Diana

UW-L Author: Michael Brennan, Ph.D.
Sociology/Archaeology
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars

Brennan, Michael. Mourning and Disaster: Finding Meaning in the Mourning for Hillsborough and Diana. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 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.

About the Author

Michael Brennan is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse, where he teaches courses on the sociology of death, dying and bereavement, religion and society and introductory sociology. His main research interests include social theory, collective memory, the sociology of religion and the social aspects of death and dying. He has explored the phenomenon of public mourning and is particularly interested in the use of condolence books as a key cultural resource for meaning-making in the face of unanticipated loss. He has written widely on the topic of mourning and loss in journals including Death Studies, Mortality and Theory, Culture and Society and is Commentaries editor of the journal Illness, Crisis and Loss.

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