This article explores affect and memory at roadside car crash memorials within the context of what Achille Mbembe calls “necropolitics”: the performance of power to determine who legitimately can kill both persons and the memory of persons. By analyzing the ritualized performance of compulsory compassion in news media stories about the actual or threatened removal of roadside memorials, I argue that there is an economy of power circulating in the practice of roadside memorialization, where some subjects are deemed legitimately memorable and some are not, where some subjects are legitimately allowed to memorialize their losses in public landscapes and others are not, and where anonymous drivers who drive by are supposed to feel a certain way about it all. Such a complex constellation of territorialized affect has significant consequences for understanding the politics of affect and memory in public landscapes.
Killing Memory: Roadside Memorial Removals and the Necropolitics of Affect
Robert M. Bednar is associate professor and chair of communication studies at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he teaches courses in media studies, visual communication, critical/cultural studies, and automobility. His work as an analyst, photographer, and theorist of critical visual communication focuses on the ways that people perform identities visually, materially, and spatially as they negotiate public landscapes. He has published a number of scholarly and popular articles on roadside trauma shrines and US National Park snapshot photography practices and currently is completing a book on roadside shrines titled “Road Scars: Trauma, Memory, and Automobility.”
Robert M. Bednar; Killing Memory: Roadside Memorial Removals and the Necropolitics of Affect. Cultural Politics 1 November 2013; 9 (3): 337–356. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-2347018
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