Identity and Responsibility in the Wake of TragedyHeather Pool
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.
“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
" 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."
"(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
"In this critical and timely text, Pool shows that while some human losses are inherently political (like those of active‐duty soldiers and political leaders), others (like those of everyday citizens) may become political through the act of public mourning.... Collective identity in this book is deeply grounded in race and racialization. This is made explicit and masterfully thematizes the text.... Pool’s theoretical frame and methodological choices are compelling and appropriate for the argument. She convincingly connects everyday deaths to processes of political change that frequently challenge the racial status quo.."
—Political Science Quarterly
"In her excellent new book.... Pool moves across both historical and contemporary case studies to establish a general framework that shows why certain deaths give rise to acts of mourning that generate political change, while others are unacknowledged and denied meaning.... This book will be of interest then not just to political theorists, but also to scholars in ethnic studies, gender studies, American politics, and trauma studies writ large.... Political Mourning provides a model for analyzing our contemporary politics of mass death and for answering the important question of how we might transform a lack of care into a democratic act of mourning."
—Law, Culture, and the Humanities
"Heather Pool’s brilliant and wide-ranging new book, Political Mourning , is a profound contribution to an emergent literature that focuses on how mourning becomes political. In particular, the book focuses on instances when the tragic deaths of ordinary citizens generate transformative political change. The book is timely, dynamic, and ultimately epiphanic."
—Perspectives on Politics
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