How Societies Remember Presented by Sharon Kalman, Sacha Page and Jennifer Stevenson
“How Societies Remember” by Paul Connerton published 1989. Dr Paul Connerton, a sociologist, teaches in the department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University. Fellow of the Institute of Romance Studies at London College About the Author
Social Memory – Terminology • Recollection • Historical Reconstruction • Social Memory • Personal Memory • Cognitive Memory • Performative Actions • Habit Memory • Forgetting • Social Persistence
Social Memory • Using Halbwachs as a starting point he asserts that memory is a socially constructed phenomena. • Counters notions of memory that are purely psychological or purely constructed by social narrative. • Instead argues that memory is embodied in social practice. • “Habit Memory” is primarily expressed in actual body or physical movements of people and in ritual performance.
Social Memory (continued) • Social memory causes an inertia in social structures. • An important part of understanding social structures and identity is an examination of habit, bodily practices and ritual. • People create notions of themselves as they relate to their world and others in their society • These interactions are at the base of identity creation and maintenance.
Connerton’s Intellectual Antecedents • Maurice Halbwachs “La Memoire Collective” • Z. Bauman “Memories of Class” • P. Nora “Les lieux de la memoire” • D. Lowenthal “The Past is a foreign country”
“How Societies Remember” It’s Reception • Very well received, not only in Memory Studies but also in the broad disciplinary fields of history, sociology and anthropology. • His interpretations of social memory used in many interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies . • Main criticisms are that his theory portrays social structures as too static and inert. Also his claim that his perspective is a “new” way to understand social memory, is not quite accurate because many anthropologists studied “bodily practices”.
Ritual Rule-governed activity of a symbolic character which draws the attention of its participants to objects of thought and feeling which they hold to be of special significance. Defined by Steven Lukes and adhered to by Connerton Ritual The prescribed order of a religious ceremonyAmerican Heritage Dictionary The prescribed form of conducting a formal secular ceremonyAmerican Heritage Dictionary Any act or practice regularly repeated in a set precise manner for relief of anxietyMerriam-Webster medical dictionary Ritual
Rites • Formalized acts that tend to be stylized, stereotyped, and repetitive. They are not spontaneous and are deliberately observed to denote feelings. • (Dictionary definition: A ceremonial act established by law or custom) Hitler Youth march Christian Confirmation
Religion Jesus Mosque Abraham
History=identity=continuity=commemoration Passover Seder The Crucifixion (el Greco) Pilgrimage to Mecca
Modern Invented Rites Olympic Opening Ceremonies Bastille Day Jubilee Day
Calendrical Chinese New Year Jewish New Year New Year’s Eve: Times Square
Verbal Hebrew Latin` Sanskrit Arabic
Information is taken from the action and interpreted based on various factors such as culture, religion or race. Living models help us learn these practices and the meaning is just understood but never directly discussed. Incorporating Practices
Inscribing Practices • Ways to provide information even after the informing system has stopped providing information. • These must be taught in steps and explained in order to be understood but once they are understood they are with us forever. • An example of this is learning the alphabet.
The overlap between practices • There is an overlap between incorporating practices and inscribing practices. • Connerton claims that although the overlap exists there will always be a dominating factor.
Gestures can also be Referential which means that it refers to means of a sign. (cultural) Notational which means that it provides support for the content of the conversation. (transcends culture)
More signs. What do each of these mean ? how did you learn their meanings?
Lessons Learned • Words, images & bodily practices help us preserve the past. • We are writing in an alphabet that is centuries old. • We view artifacts that are centuries old. • We are performing simple actions that have been done for centuries. • Everything we do connects us to the past whether we realize it or not.