Department of Anthropology

Bob Bednar: Placing Affect

Mon, November 5, 2012 | SAC 5.118

12:00 PM

Bob Bednar: Placing Affect

UT Department of Anthropology Presents

2012-2013 Speaker Series

“The Long Hand: Anthropology, Writing, and Inscription”


Robert M. Bednar

Communication Studies, Southwestern University

“Placing Affect:  Remembering Ordinary Trauma at Roadside Crash Shrines”


Monday, November 5

SAC 5.118, 12 pm


This is a study of the intersubjective performance of traumatic memory in roadside crash shrines, vernacular memorial assemblages built by private individuals at sites where family or friends have died in automotive accidents.  Here, the ongoing production of spaces of mourning materializes and spatializes affect to remind passers-by of the ordinary traumas contained within the culture of automobility. 

 My methodological goal here is to theorize while staying close to the ground:  entering into the vigorous critical and theoretical dialogues within visual culture studies, material culture studies, and cultural geography surrounding contemporary discourses of trauma, memory, and landscape, while drawing on my fieldwork experiences and my work as a photographer to analyze roadside shrines as a material cultural practice.

 I will argue that roadside shrines are places where strangers visually and materially encounter an intimate resonance of the person who died and the people who mourn them by maintaining the shrines.  As these crash shrines perform memory on the roadside, they emplace affect into a unique crash site—creating what Kathleen Stewart (2007) calls a "space of shared impact," where intense affects are registered and shared even by strangers passing by (39).  Even if we do not know the narrative details, trauma shrines on the roadside insure that we remember that people die on the highways doing the exact thing we are doing when we see them:  driving, going about the business of living everyday lives, believing in reaching a projected destination.  Crash shrines thus inscribe the politics of affect into the landscape of automobility, challenging drivers to remember that the risks of automobility are intrinsic to automobility itself.  This ongoing production of places of affect in public landscapes thus demands that we ask complex questions about the nature of both individual and collective trauma, affect, and memory as they are performed in and through shared landscapes.

 Robert M. Bednar is Associate Professor and Chair of Communication Studies at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he teaches media studies, visual communication, and cultural studies.  His work as an analyst, photographer, and theorist of critical visual communication focuses on the ways that people perform identities visually, materially and spatially in public landscapes.  The paper abstracted here is part of his current book project, titled Road Scars: Trauma, Memory, and Automobility, which explores the visual, material and spatial dimensions of roadside crash shrines as they are situated in the roadscape and within the discourse of automobility in the contemporary US.

 For further information please contact Adriana Dingman at

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