Political Mourning

Identity and Responsibility in the Wake of Tragedy

Heather Pool
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1893-7
Publication: May 21

HC: $110.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1892-0
Publication: May 21

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1894-4
Publication: May 21

260 pages
6 x 9

How racial identity shapes who is mourned and how that can lead to political change

Read the Introduction (pdf).


What leads us to respond politically to the deaths of some citizens and not others? This is one of the critical questions Heather Pool asks in Political Mourning. Born out of her personal experiences with the trauma of 9/11, Pool’s astute book looks at how death becomes political, and how it can mobilize everyday citizens to argue for political change.

Pool examines four tragedies in American history—the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the lynching of Emmett Till, the September 11 attacks, and the Black Lives Matter movement—that offered opportunities to tilt toward justice and democratic inclusion. Some of these opportunities were taken, some were not. However, these watershed moments show, historically, how political identity and political responsibility intersect and how racial identity shapes who is mourned. Political Mourning helps explain why Americans recognize the names of Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland; activists took those cases public while many similar victims have been ignored by the news media.

Concluding with an afterword on the coronavirus, Pool emphasizes the importance of collective responsibility for justice and why we ought to respond to tragedy in ways that are more politically inclusive.


"(A) thought-provoking book.... Political Mourning could be used to raise issues of how social class impacts a constructed awareness of suffering. How does the construction occur, when and why is it challenged, and with what consequences? A good book doesn’t necessarily answer all the questions it raises, but the raising of questions can itself be a valuable contribution to our understanding."
—Socialism and Democracy

" Pool’s work makes a valuable contribution to the study of mourning’s politics, and her examples show the unpredictability, complexity, and uncertainty that surround the politics of public grief. The book explores how democracy can be expanded or contracted under the pressure of public grief and invites readers to take up the occasions for reflection and solidarity that these mournable moments provide. Scholars of, and participants in, social movements have much to gain from a close reading of this well-written and tightly argued book."

“Heather Pool’s philosophically rich, insightful, and moving book asks us to see political mourning as a practice of placing ordinary deaths in the service of political change and thus potentially binding us together in a practice of collective responsibility that acknowledges our complicity in those deaths. By the end of Political Mourning, one cannot help but feel that Pool has offered us something more beyond the cases she examines. She has provided us with nothing short of an ethical-political orientation for reckoning with the tragedy of our past. For anyone interested in the health of democracy, this is a book you must read!”
—Melvin Rogers,
Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University, and coeditor of African American Political Thought: A Collected History

“With rigorous argumentation and compelling examples, Political Mourning shows how publics and political identities are formed by responses to loss. It is a stunning work of political theory that will appeal to the field as a whole. Pool makes an exciting contribution to the existing literature on mourning and politics. It is an essential text that all those working in this area will have to engage.”
—Simon Stow,
Marshall Professor of Government and American Studies at the College of William and Mary, and author of American Mourning: Tragedy, Democracy, and Resilience

Political Mourning provides a clear contribution to the conversations both within and beyond political theory about the politics of loss and mourning as well as political responsibility, social movements, and race and politics. Pool begins from the contemporary political moment and develops a cogent and distinctive approach to the politics of mourning that attends to the processes of collective identity formation that in turn shape the politics of collective responsibility and action. She shows how this theory illuminates political life by working through actual cases that are both interesting and timely.”
—Joel Alden Schlosser,
Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at Bryn Mawr College, and author of Herodotus in the Anthropocene

Table of Contents


The Rise of Black Lives Matter
Why Do Some Deaths Matter Politically?

1 Making Mourning Political
Death and Politics
Making Mourning Political
Identity and the Borders of Belonging
A Process Model of Political Mourning
Tracing Political Mourning in Politics

2 The Triangle Fire: State Responsibility for White Workers
Making Loss Visible: The Strike, the Fire, and a March of Mourning
Agency, Collective Responsibility, and Political Change
Why Did This Fire Matter?

3 Mourning Emmett Till: Federal Responsibility for Racial Violence
Contested Identities: Race and Law
Making Loss and Mourning Visible
The Failure of Law and Recognition of Collective Responsibility
Mobilizing Mourning for Political Change

4 September 11: Sovereign Mourning—Rejecting International Responsibility
Contested Identities and American Responses to Terrorism before September 11
Depoliticizing Visibility: Intimate Loss and Public Spectacle
Political Actors Taking Their Grief-Wrath Public to Make War Instead of Law
Eschewing Law and Responsibility
Political Change: The Patriot Act and the War on Terror
Conclusion: Sovereign Mourning

5 The Democratic Deficit of All Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter as Political Mourning
The Democratic Deficit of All Lives Matter
The Embodied Democracy of Black Lives Matter

The (Normatively Desirable) Possibilities of Political Mourning
The (Normatively Undesirable) Limitations of Political Mourning
Unanswered Questions
Final Thoughts

Afterword: The COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020


About the Author(s)

Heather Pool is an Associate Professor of Politics and Public Affairs and the Director of the Philosophy/Politics/Economics Program at Denison University in Ohio.