Is There Any Sociological Tradition of Social Memory Research? the Polish and the Czech Case

By Kilias, Jaroslaw | Polish Sociological Review, July 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Is There Any Sociological Tradition of Social Memory Research? the Polish and the Czech Case


Kilias, Jaroslaw, Polish Sociological Review


Abstract:

The paper deals with social memory research done by Polish and Czech sociologists. In Poland it started in the 1960s when an outline of a historical consciousness study was sketched by Nina Assorodobraj-Kula. Although her original concept was soon left out, a series of surveys was conducted. Recently memory has become a popular research field and numerous studies have been employing various research methods. In Czechoslovakia opinion polls on historical consciousness were conducted as early as in the 1940s, and recently a study has started in the Czech Republic that resembles and was probably influenced by earlier Polish survey research. In my paper I try to map out the research done in the two countries in order to identify typical features of the local studies. It seems that in spite of a large quantity of studies published, the character of most of Polish and Czech works on memory were purely descriptive, and any sociologically relevant problems started to be posed only recently. Therefore it may be suggested that although a certain common Polish and Czech tradition of memory research exists, it cannot be called sociological in any strict sense.

Keywords: Social memory studies, historical consciousness, Polish sociology, Czech sociology, social memory research tradition.

And in a general way we know that human attitudes and beliefs fail to persist unless the situations and sanctions that reproduce them continues to persist or, more crassly, unless people get something out of them.

(Barrington Moore, Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modem World, Boston: Beacon Press 1993: 335).

Social Memory, Memory Research and Sociology in Poland and Czech Lands

Although social memory is usually considered interdisciplinary research field, many of memory students were (and still are) sociologists who did substantial empirical and theoretical work. My paper is a scrutiny of memory studies carried out by Polish and Czech sociologists, and an attempt to identify specifically sociological traditions discernible within this research area. There are two reasons why the scrutiny of research in the two countries can be considered justified and useful. The first one is the affinity between the Polish studies and the work done recently by Czech scholars, which at least in part resulted from an inspiration by earlier Polish research, even though citations in Czech texts did not reveal the whole extent of this influence. Whether or not this is enough to speak about a common scientific tradition of sociological memory studies, capabilities and limitations of approaches used by the scholars in the two countries seem to be analogous.

The second reason why it is useful not to confine the analysis to just one, Polish or Czech case is the character of social memory in Central-Eastern Europe1. Obviously, a study of just two cases does not enable to grasp all the regional context, but at least puts local research in a perspective broader than just a national one. Most scholars study local memories separately, consequently (though not always deliberately) treating them as if they were unique phenomena. However in Central-Eastern Europe at least public cultural memories have been not at all unique in their content and structure, being formed by similar historical experience, undergoing similar transformation processes and being influenced by the same or akin factors. This applies to both Polish and Czech historical imageries which have been telling stories that usually oscillate between historical romance and tragedy (cf. White 1973: 8-9). They have been often sharing the belief in justness of their national political claims and aspirations, typical for Central-East European small nation historical imagery (Hroch 1999b: 160).2 Analogous though not identical has been the official picture of the Communist rule as a period of oppression and the idea of a return to the once banned "genuine" national tradition after 1989. …

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