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Why Feminists Care About Funerals

Posted on Thursday, April 17, 2014

Assistant Professor of Women's Studies Michelle Martin-Baron will present "Why feminists care about funerals: the politics of public mourning" as the last lecture of the spring semester's Sentiments & Declarations series on Thursday, April 24. What do state funerals, AIDS activism, 300-year-old remains of former slaves, and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act have do with each other? This talk will use a feminist approach to explore what each of these examples can tell us about public mourning practices in the United States. The talk will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Guntzel Theatre at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.

Martin-Baron will explain how and why she thinks about funeral practices, and then delve into a number of case studies that demonstrate why caring about funerals is essential for turning a critical eye to contemporary culture and structures of power.

Her talk is based on the manuscript she is developing for a book, "Queering Funerals: Performance, Mourning, Belonging," which builds upon research Martin-Baron conducted as part of her graduate work at UC Berkeley. In it, she develops a queer and feminist theorization of funeral practices as public performance of national belonging.

"Funerals are rich sites of inquiry, as they both seek to return a world fractured by death to normalcy, while also disturbing norms by drawing attention to the array of fictions that are performed by individuals and communities," explains Martin-Baron, who notes her project aims to shift the way people think about public mourning.

"Often times when I'm asked about my research, and I explain that I work on funeral practice, folks remark that the topic is quite morbid or depressing," she says. "Despite (or because of) the complex emotions that emerge around death, funerals are intensely interesting to me - they are rituals ostensibly for the dead, but which are much more focused on affirming the living, and using the occasion of death as a time to reiterate shared value systems or, as I argue, potentially transform them."

Sentiments & Declarations events are co-sponsored by the Women's Rights National Historical Park, Women's Studies, the Offices of the President and of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, and Vice President for Student Affairs, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

"I am deeply grateful to all who made this inaugural year of our lecture series possible - buoyed by the good audience responses and wider attention it has received and looking forward to building on it," says Professor of Women's Studies Betty Bayer, who helped develop the series. She notes the speakers this year showcase women's studies and feminist scholarship as engaged in a broad range of topics and issues from different time periods and different parts of the globe.

"It also brings the work of faculty into a forum as public interlocutors, engaged in a dialogue whose central concerns of justice and equality are a good reminder of that feminist adage of every issue, every topic, every public and private concern being a woman's issue. Having this series in Seneca Falls bridges time, place and history, reviving a local and timeless tradition of public discussion, debate and dialogue."

Martin-Baron is a feminist performance studies scholar with specialization in feminist and queer theories, visual and material cultural studies, theater history and criticism, critical race studies, and performance theory. She earned her B.A. in theater arts and English from Brandeis University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in performance studies with a designated emphasis on gender and women's studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research examines large-scale public mourning rites as performances of national belonging through a queer and comparative ethnic studies framework.

Among her latest publications are: "(Hyper/in)visibility and the Military Corps(e)" Queer Necropolitics (Routledge Press, 2013); and "Funerals," Encyclopedia of Latina/o Folklore (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2012).

 


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