Heather Pool, "Political Mourning: Identity and Responsibility in the Wake of Tragedy" (Temple UP, 2021)


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Political Mourning: Identity and Responsibility in the Wake of Tragedy (Temple UP, 2021) moves us, as readers, beyond the stages of grief to consider the effects of mourning. While grief consists of the internal thoughts, feelings, and ideas surrounding a loss, the process of mourning transforms grief into an external expression of those interior experiences. Political Theorist Heather Pool explores the political components to public mourning and poses the question: why are the deaths of certain people politically significant, or what makes an individual’s death politically important? Using critical and normative political theory, Pool answers this question by delving into political identities and the conceptions of responsibility to understand how they coincide with changes and shifts within politics and political institutions.

Pool begins the analysis with an exploration of the importance of public mourning within politics; she dissects political identities, framing the edges of belonging, and defining responsibility. To frame the exploration of the central cases within Political Mourning, Pool unpacks how political identity contributes to our understandings of the value of an individual’s life, and how that person or those people were contextualized within American society. This framework also integrates the role of responsibility among the citizenry in relation to these deaths, interrogating how these events and tragedies came to shape political outcomes that evolved from these events and tragedies. Pool examines political mourning in four separate cases that span the past American century, including the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, the 2001 September 11th attacks in the United States, and the most recent Black Lives Matter movement—which encompasses a number of different deaths. Within each of these cases, Pool explores the competing political identities, the purpose and ways that these events became visible or legible to the public, and the implications for political institutions. Political Mourning is a fascinating and important examination of the politics of mourning, providing an understanding as to why the public is more fully aware of cases like the killing of Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland, but may not be aware of other deaths that occurred under similar circumstances. Given when Political Mourning went to press, Pool was able to provide a brief Afterward that focuses on the COVID19 pandemic and the impact that this mass-casualty event, through which we are all living, may have on our response to grief and mourning. Political Mourning: Identity and Responsibility in the Wake of Tragedy weaves together political theory and politics to help us better understand the process of mourning, and provides readers with concepts and analysis that extend far beyond the disciplinary borders of political science.

Shaina Boldt assisted with this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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