Diana phenomenon becomes a matter of academic interest

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The Independent Online
Intellectuals are working overtime trying to fathom the meaning and implications of the death of the Princess of Wales. Clare Garner reports on a fashionable new subject: Diana studies.

She may have left school without an O-level to her name, but Diana, Princess of Wales is rapidly becoming the Professors' Princess. Her life, and death, are the subject of intense study, spawning a host of lectures, courses and conferences across the academic disciplines.

Last week, the University of Kent staged a conference entitled "New Sensibilities", at which sociologists, psychoanalysts and literary figures - plus a token priest - picked apart with an academic toothcomb the nation's reaction to Diana's death. Specialists in art history, feminism, sociology, history, psychology, media studies and religious studies, are all finding things to say on the subject.

While there is, as yet, no journal of Diana studies, a wide range of publications have devoted pages - if not issues - to Dianaology. The British Medical Journal, the New Left Review and the literary magazine Granta have published screeds. The Modern Review relaunched itself recently as the magazine which would address "the post-Diana age".

Germany was first to put Diana on the curriculum. In November, Berlin's Free University began a series of 13 lectures entitled "Myths and Politics from Princess of Wales to the Queen of Hearts". The course organisers say they were snowed under with inquiries. Was Diana a "living simulacrum" or a symbol of "faux modernity"? Could the reaction to her death be described as "grief-lite"? What does it tell us about "uncertainty and social psychological responses"? It is perhaps only a matter of time before such questions are appearing on examination papers.

Two weeks ago, a psychoanalytic conference at the University of East London was held under the heading: "The Princess, the Premier and the People: Authority in New Britain." Lancaster University has hosted a one-day conference looking at the Princess's elevation to cultural icon.

Jeffrey Richards, professor of cultural history at Lancaster, has likened the Diana phenomenon to the Falklands war. "Both took academics completely by surprise," he said.

"Before the Falklands, people were saying that patriotism was on the way out, that it was something that belonged to a different era. That produced a wealth of academic research, but this has something more. It is not just the intensity but also the nature of the public demonstration that will keep academics enthralled for years to come."

Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed yesterday rejected a claim that his deceased son and Diana's last love, Dodi, had a secret love child. His spokesman Michael Cole said that after an investigation he had concluded - "with some degree of disappointment" - that Mr Fayed did not in fact have a grandchild.