Academic journal article Trames

Time and Memory: A Cultural Perspective

Academic journal article Trames

Time and Memory: A Cultural Perspective

Article excerpt

1. A cultural approach--introductory remarks

Time, history and memory are crucial terms in the research of sociocultural phenomena, constituted by meanings shaped through cultural knowledge. However, the humanities have never formed one comprehensive theory of culture. For this reason, every attempt at clearly explicating them carries the risk of opening some Pandora's box, full of contradictory views or differing traditions of thought. This is a situation in which investigators will find themselves also upon entering the field of some discipline seemingly already developed. The presented rule applies to sociology as well, in which a processual--thus embracing the dimension of time--approach to phenomena has not always been obvious (Elias 1987). First and foremost, an explicit understanding of sociocultural phenomena--and of the relations between culture and society--has never become established. This impacts our understanding of time, memory and history.

The presented essay proposes a look at issues of time, history and memory from a cultural perspective. It shows that social and cultural meanings of time, history and memory are not identical. Attempting to revalorize the cultural dimension in sociocultural phenomena, it especially brings into relief the concept of cultural memory. Thus, it questions the assumption that human social life produces time conceived as a measure, because of the narrow focus and sociological one-sidedness of this view. Instead, it embraces the idea of cultural autonomy of time and temporality, neither of which can be confined within the social boundaries of distinct groups. At the beginning, the issue of cultural time will be sketched out, in order to subsequently present a deeper analysis of cultural memory and of the particular phenomenon of the collective memory of trauma. The universalization of the cultural meaning of trauma is showing itself to be a global phenomenon today.

2. Time as a cultural dimension of meaning

At the outset, it is worthwhile to return to the reflections on the understanding of time, as presented years ago by Fernand Braudel (1958) He claimed that the historian cannot perceive the time of sociologists as his own; the deepest structure of the historian's craft defies this. For historians, time is a measure. Neither did he see a possibility of building a bridge linking historical and sociological research. Furthermore, Braudel claimed that time will never become a central problem in sociology, although he pertinently observed that time with which sociology concerns itself is something that exists inside social phenomena--it is one of their dimensions, or characteristics--a sign that gives meaning to social phenomena. This is a very important statement with regard the present attempt to show the problematics of time, history and memory in a cultural perspective. However surprising the standpoint of Braudel may seem as regards the centrality of the question of time in sociology, it must be acknowledged that merely introducing the term 'social time', or rather--as Georges Gurvitch (1963) proposed--the multiplicity of social times, or even an already clearly demarcated current of research in the form of sociology of time (Ryan 2005:838-839) do not suffice to undermine the validity of Braudel's skepticism. After all, it might be accepted that sociology of time remains on the periphery of the discipline, although it presents many valuable results of analyses of multiform social time, which is a correlate of individual and collective actions. Rhythms, cycles, pace and other rules of socio-temporal order do not mean that time moves into the focus of sociological problems. Instead, the question of time has become shifted toward the center of sociological problems by research on social memory. Matters change when Braudel's claim becomes confronted with the problem of time as it appears in historical sociology, which depicts the sociotemporal conditions that underlie events and processes (Tilly 2001:570). …

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