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Rhetorics of Suffering: September 11 Commemorations as Theodicy

Christina Simko
American Sociological Review
Vol. 77, No. 6 (December 2012), pp. 880-902
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41723076
Page Count: 23
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Abstract

Weber argued that human suffering creates the demand for theodicies: cultural vocabularies, religious or secular, that explain perceived injustices. This article combines an interpretive analysis of rhetoric commemorating the events of September 11,2001 with an effort to construct generalizable cultural theory, demonstrating how the Weberian concept of theodicy adds to our understanding of commemorative rhetoric. In the case of September 11 commemorations, the theodicies deployed exhibit a clear fracture. Speakers at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, have taken a dualistic approach to the problem of theodicy, while speakers in Manhattan have taken a tragic approach. This variation can be explained through a four-part model that argues theodicies are structured by (1) events, (2) carrier groups, (3) audiences, and (4) genre memory. More broadly, I argue for explicit attention to theodicy in cultural sociology, demonstrating that the quest for theodicy is a crucial driving force behind the impulse to commemorate in the first place.

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