‘She loved this place’: memorial benches as life writing - Prof. Anne Karpf

About this event

Inaugural professorial lecture:

Anne Karpf - ‘She loved this place’: memorial benches as life writing and life sitting.

The lecture explored the phenomenon of the memorial bench – restful public seating that celebrates the bonds between people and place. Despite the proliferation of online spaces for memorialising a person who has died, there is a growing demand for physical commemorations in places that were meaningful to them, as evidenced by the waiting lists for memorial benches in sought-after spots. This lecture drew together some of Anne Karpf's longstanding research interests, including the memorialisation of lives and deaths and how public space can serve to encourage interaction and facilitate mobility or, conversely, discourage and disable. Exploring some reasons for the increasing popularity of the memorial bench, Professor Karpf saw it as a material way of marking a life in a digital age and part of the turn towards the body, particularly the increasing interest in embodiment. Memorial benches are also a reminder of the ways in which public spaces are stitched into daily routines, of the quiet value and meaning attached to local public squares, parks and beaches, increasingly encroached upon by privatisation.

While memorial benches have been studied as an example of memory practices, they have been curiously neglected as a form of life writing. The lecture reflected, too, on benches as a ‘living obituary’, a celebration of seemingly undistinguished lives, a form of self-publishing and a ‘remediation’ of one person’s life by another. Anne Karpf examined the language of inscriptions on plaques, from the formulaic to the subversive, as a mode of bringing the private into the public and for its performative aspects. Finally, she considered memorial benches as relational narratives – cryptic but often emotionally charged biographies linking self and other.

Anne Karpf is Professor of Life Writing and Culture in London Met's School of Art, Architecture and Design. A sociologist and regular broadcaster, she is also an award-winning journalist and writer. Her five books of nonfiction, including The Human Voice, How to Age and, most recently, How Women Can Save the Planet, have been translated into 13 languages. Her broad research interests include Holocaust studies, ageing, gender, the human voice, the politics of care, the climate crisis and public space. She set up and co-organises the University’s Centre for Life Writing and Oral History (CLiOH).






Memorial bench.


Date/time Thursday, 19 Oct 2023 6:00pm - 9:00pm
Book ticket Event ended
Location Wash Houses, 16 Goulston Street, London E1 7TP