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The sadness of lives and the comfort of things: Goods as evocative objects in bereavement

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This paper seeks to understand the texture and emotional tenor of the relations that bereaved people can have with a range of objects, including those that seem mundane or simply part of the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Taking Joan Didion's best-selling book, The Year of Magical Thinking, as its focus, the paper examines the varied and significant roles that certain objects played as she negotiated the vagaries of her first year as a widow. While previous literature has mined the memorialising function of goods for survivors, our analysis suggests that goods and consumption experiences can also play a powerful role as tools to think with for those struggling to create a meaningful narrative of death and loss. It concludes by considering the contribution of the analysis to the understanding of goods as ‘active life presences’ (Turkle, 2007), the relationship between consumption and bereavement, and ‘the sadness of lives and the comfort of things’ (Miller, 2008).
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Keywords: bereavement; consumption symbolism; continuing bonds; grief; material culture; textual analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Dublin City University, Ireland 2: University of Edinburgh, UK

Publication date: 2012-10-01

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