Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives

Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives

Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives

Collective Memory of Political Events: Social Psychological Perspectives

Synopsis

Research in collective memory is a relatively new area capturing the interest of scholars in social psychology, memory, sociology, and anthropology. The core idea is that collective attitudes and behaviors are created and shared through common experiences and communication among a cohort of people. For example, people born between 1940 and 1960 are often defined via the JFK assassination and the Vietnam War. Their parents typically experienced lesser impact from these events.

Papers about collective memory have appeared in the literature under different guises for the last hundred years. Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, Jung's ideas on the collective unconscious, and McDougall's speculation on the group mind posited that identity and action could be viewed as resulting from the shared development of a culture. Halbwachs, a French social psychologist (1877-1945) who was the first to write in detail about the nature of collective memory, argued that basic memory processes were all social. That is, people remember only those events that they have repeated and elaborated in their discussions with others.

In the last several years, there has been a resurgence of interest in this general topic because it addresses some fundamental questions about memory and social processes. Work closely related to these questions deals with the nature of autobiographical memory, traumatic experience and reconstructive memory, and social sharing of memories. This book brings together an international group of researchers who have been empirically studying some basic tenets of collective memory.

Excerpt

Southern Methodist University

Families, neighborhoods, cities, regions, and entire cultures are bound together by a shared set of beliefs, experiences, and memories. These shared histories cement individuals' identities with the groups to which they belong. Some of the historic memories are fixed events that were experienced by virtually all members of the group--an accident, a natural disaster, a birth, or a death. Other shared memories are not memories at all, but rather shared presumed memories or histories--for example, the group's members assume that their ancestors fought for a particular cause several generations earlier.

Powerful collective memories--whether real or concocted--can be at the root of wars, prejudice, nationalism, and cultural identities. For example, in the United States, citizens "remember" how they single-handedly defeated the Germans in World War II. Not surprisingly, Russians, British, and French nationals remember the defeat of Germany in very different ways. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was initially thought to be the act of a lone gunman who desperately sought the attention of others. Thirty years later, a majority of Americans "remember" Kennedy's assassination as the result of a conspiracy--perhaps with the complicity of the U.S. government. No overwhelming evidence exists to support either memory. Where do these memories come from and how do they exert such remarkable power over a culture? Further, how do these collective cultural memories remain alive across generations--often in the face of contradictory evidence?

The purpose of this book is to explore the creation, maintenance, and distortions of collective memories of societal events from several social . . .

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