Academic journal article Hagar

Gossip and the Formation of Periphery over Time

Academic journal article Hagar

Gossip and the Formation of Periphery over Time

Article excerpt

There are few more poignant demonstrations of the role of memory in the formation of periphery than Norbert Elias' and John Scotson's study of people living in adjacent suburban developments of the English town of Leicester in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as documented in the book The Established and the Outsiders (1965). In the suburb, known by the fictive name of Winston Parva, new residents of recently built houses were subject to gossip and therefore ostracized by residents who had already lived in the suburb for two or three generations. The "stock of coimnon memories, attaclunents and dislikes" (Elias and Scotson, 1965:xxxvi-xxxvii) forged over time by the exchange of information within the older group meant that this group could not admit new members because the latter were not privy to their shared memories and socially unconnected, having arrived from different previous places of residence. Moreover, the older group was not willing to admit new members into the intimacy and sense of belonging provided by its stock of memories, for this would have distorted the familiar "internal constitution" of the established group. It is this spatially and temporally determined divide which defines membership in what Elias and Scotson call "established" and "outsider" groups (1965:xxxvi-xxxvii).

One might ask whether an outsider group is synonymous with a periphery or peripheral group. The term "outsider" evokes a strict separation from the established center, while a "periphery" is merely on the edge, outskirts or fringe of something central (or, according to the Greek origins of the term, on the circumference or periphéreia). In social terms, however, a periphery is akin to the state of being an outsider. For the study of Winston Parva shows that being either established or an outsider is not merely a spatial distinction, but one determined by relations which develop over time-relations which are determined by the flow of information between individuals within groups and between the groups, where such a flow of information fosters the accumulation of shared episodic memories, the elaboration of semantic memories and the development of ritual memories. …

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