Discourses of Identity in Public Obituaries

Aida Premilovac

Independent Scholar, Bosnia and Herzegovina


Discourses of Identity in Public Obituaries

This paper examines public obituaries in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a form of discursive practice in which not only language but also physical emplacement and visual composition of the obituaries help to construct different ethnic, national, political, and religious identities. These death notices are displayed in municipally designated places (obituary stands) or simply any place where they are deemed visible (telephone or electric poles, trees, apartment buildings etc.). While their primary function is to publicly announce someone’s death and funeral services, this analysis shows that public obituaries in Bosnia and Herzegovina also reflect and create particular identities and ideologies, informed by the socio-political trends prior to and after the 1991-1995 war and ethnic cleansing in the country.

The following types of discourse structure in public obituaries, displayed in different communities, will be examined: (1) language choice, (2) physical emplacement, and (3) visual composition. Considering Scollon and Scollon’s (2003: 160) finding that an adequate understanding of visual semiotic systems needs to rely on “an ethnographic understanding of the meanings of these systems within specific communities of practice,” this analysis of discourses of identity in public obituaries will be supplemented by an ethnographic study of the communities in question.

Session: Paper session
Discourse 6 (Special Environments)
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 11