9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS07 Memory, Culture and Public Discourse

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Responses to Terror Building I, 1E7

Remembering the victims of terrorism: A comparative analysis of the commemorative anniversaries of 9/11 in New York City and 3/11 in Madrid

In this paper we explore the political and cultural dynamics that shape how victims of terrorism are remembered, through a comparative analysis of the commemorative anniversaries of 9/11, New York and 3/11, Madrid, from the first anniversaries to the present. Drawing on the sociology of collective memory, cultural trauma and sociology of culture literatures, we examine how anniversaries, as social rituals, provide collective moments and spaces for grieving, remembering, honoring and ?taking stock?, but also serve to reaffirm ideological values and further political agendas. With the passage of time, these ceremonies serve to anchor and cement what our collective memory of the tragic events themselves will retain. We will limit ourselves to the formal, official commemoration ceremonies, and briefly highlight other local commemorations.

Our analysis, based on media reports, examines the rituals themselves, their settings and contexts, choice of music, readings, speeches, activities, cultural symbols, who attends (and sometimes more importantly, who does not) and how the ceremonies reflect universal themes but also localized cultural values and ideals.

The anniversaries in the United States reflect a highly personalized and individualized culture of commemoration. Ironically, this very emphasis on victims as unique individuals combined with a commemorative culture that emphasizes diversity led to a fragmentation of victims groups and less ability to influence the shape commemorative rituals took. In Spain, victims are commemorated collectively, to the point where no names are read; however, because victims groups are centralized, albeit into two highly polarized organizations connected to competing parties, they have an institutional representation in decisions around commemoration not present in the U.S.

In both cases, rituals establish the moral superiority of the victims. In the United States, however, the victims are seen as selfless heroes, and their ?sacrifice? is linked to the defense of the central values of democracy and freedom. In Spain, the bombings are also characterized as attacks on freedom and democracy, but victims? hero status is played down. Unlike the U.S., commemorations are strongly polarized along partisan lines, which lessens the focus on victims, survivors and their families and instead highlights political and social divisions.