The grieving killjoy: Bereavement, alienation and cultural critique

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In recent years, a range of scholars have put forth critical analyses of the consequences of the ideals of happiness, future-orientedness, and productivity which dominate contemporary Western cultures. The experience of grief—with its sadness, preoccupation with the past, and lack of initiative—is inherently at odds with such ideals. This conflict between grief and cultural ideals of happiness is reflected in the recent efforts within bereavement research to delineate pathological mourning from uncomplicated, normative mourning. While the latter is characterized by a gradual decline in emotional pain, sadness, lack of initiative, etc., complicated mourning is marked by a failure to meet normative standards for recovery. In this article, I will draw on loss experiences among bereaved parents in contemporary Danish society in order to shed light on how profound losses may catalyze estrangement from and opposition toward what has been termed the happiness imperative of contemporary Western societies. More specifically, I borrow the figure of the feminist killjoy, paraphrased as the grieving killjoy, as a lens through which bereavement experiences may be theorized and understood as a starting point for experientially driven cultural critique.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCulture & Psychology
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)434-450
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Bereavement
  • cultural critique
  • feeling rules
  • grief
  • happiness
  • positive psychology


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