Popular Memories: Commemoration, Participatory Culture, and Democratic Citizenship

Popular Memories: Commemoration, Participatory Culture, and Democratic Citizenship

Popular Memories: Commemoration, Participatory Culture, and Democratic Citizenship

Popular Memories: Commemoration, Participatory Culture, and Democratic Citizenship

Synopsis

In the last three decades ordinary Americans launched numerous grassroots commemorations and official historical institutions became more open to popular participation. In this first book-length study of participatory memory practices, Ekaterina V. Haskins critically examines this trend by asking how and with what consequences participatory forms of commemoration have reshaped the rhetoric of democratic citizenship.Approaching commemorations as both representations of civic identity and politically consequential sites of stranger interaction, Popular Memories investigates four distinct examples of participatory commemoration: the United States Postal Service's "Celebrate the Century" stamp and education program, the September 11 Digital Archive, the first post-Katrina Carnival in New Orleans, and a traveling memorial to the human cost of the Iraq War.Despite differences in sponsorship, genre, historical scope, and political purpose, all of these commemorations relied on voluntary participation of ordinary citizens in selecting, producing, or performing interpretations of distant or recent historical events. These collectively produced interpretations--or popular memories--in turn prompted interactions between people, inviting them to celebrate, to mourn, or to bear witness. The book's comparison of the four case studies suggests that popular memories make for stronger or weaker sites of civic engagement depending on whether or not they allow for public affirmation of the individual citizen's contribution and for experiencing alternative identities and perspectives. By systematically accounting for grassroots memory practices, consumerism, tourism, and rituals of popular identity, Haskins's study enriches our understanding of contemporary memory culture and citizenship.

Excerpt

In Popular Memories: Commemoration, Participatory Culture, and Democratic Citizenship, Professor Ekaterina V. Haskins offers a fresh look at the study of what she calls popular memories, examining how “participatory forms of communication” have “redefined the rhetoric of democratic citizenship.” She explores in detail how four very different campaigns for participatory public memory—the Postal Service’s “Celebrate the Century” commemorative stamp program, the September 11 Digital Archive, the first post–Katrina New Orleans carnival, and the Eyes Wide Open project of the American Friends Service Committee-suggest, guide, and sometimes limit genuine democratic participation.

Haskins explores the now familiar distinction made by memory scholars between popularization—the engagement of mass audiences through invocation of the idioms and practices of the popular arts—and democratization, which at a minimum would involve the participation of ordinary people in the production of memory practices, and suggests that the distinction may not fully explain what happens in actual cases. “Popular participation in memory work does not render it instantly more democratic, nor does the stamp of approval from government or mainstream media necessarily diminish the political charge of grassroots efforts.”

Haskins asks how each of the cases she examines represents civic identity and how if at all it prompts democratic encounters among people of differing opinions about issues and about citizenship itself. the “Celebrate the Century” commemorative stamp program did invite citizens to participate in choosing the final designs from a menu of choices, and did depict an America of inclusiveness. On the other hand, the program equated consumerism with civic responsibility, promoting a neoliberal and self satisfied mythology in which each person has a place and an identity, but in which there is no space for strangers to mingle and debate. in a similar way, the online September 11 Digital Archive created an open web site for the uncensored contribution of diverse responses to the attacks of September n, 2001, but while the structure of the archive encouraged a diversity of contributions, it did not enable the interactive potentials of the technology to encourage potentially transformative conversation, debate, or deliberation.

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