Holocaust commemoration and affective practice: a rhetorical ethnography of audience applause

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Abstract

This article examines the affective practice of applause at the 2019 Holocaust Memorial Day national ceremony in Britain. Every year, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust organises a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, all other victims of Nazi persecution, in addition to those killed in subsequent genocides perpetrated in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda. At the start of the 2019 ceremony, the audience were asked not to applaud in response to speakers and texts, and yet at five points in the ceremony some members of the audience still clapped. I approach applause as a collective behavioural sign of an emotional response to semiotic stimuli, reflecting routinised (that is, socially organised and patterned) relational actions which are shaped by and yet contribute to particular settings and circumstances. Utilising the theoretical insights of Wetherell, and the emplaced and embodied character of rhetorical ethnography, I position the discourse of the ceremony and audience reactions as an intertwined affective practice. The instances of sporadic, hesitant, clapping indicate an affiliative response on the part of (some) audience members, when their nation, life-story and/or experiences of genocide are acknowledged in the ceremony.

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Richardson, J. E. (2021). Holocaust commemoration and affective practice: a rhetorical ethnography of audience applause. Social Semiotics, 31(5), 757–772. https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2020.1810542

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