15 August 2009

Epidemiological approach to collective memory

Hirst & Manier (2008) argue that in order to understand the way in which collective memory works it is necessary to take into account the interaction between the psychological mechanisms of individuals and situational, cultural, social and historical mechanisms. This approach supports the view that memory spreads through the community neither because of the strength of the social practices and cultural resources –the media, memorials, textbooks, films, etc.- nor because of the cognitive efforts made by individuals, but due to the interaction between them. This interaction can be thought of as a system grounded in brain, body and context. That is to say, in order to understand how collective memory functions, it is crucial to consider the interplay between biological and social elements. In contrast to what is usually assumed in the sociological approach to collective memory, the epidemiological approach maintains that the transmission of collective memory is also constrained by universal and biological mechanisms as well as social practices. These resources depend on cultural differentiations. One culture may supply mnemotechnic practices that distinguish it from others (Wang, 2001, 2004; Conway, Wang, Hanyu & Haque, 2005). These, along with universal psychological limitations play key role in the process of reconstruction and propagation of shared memories.
Several scholars (Cuc, Koppel & Hirst, 2007; Hirst & Manier, 2002, 2008; Manier & Hirst, 2007) claim that examining conversations about revelant experiences in the construction of social identities is one of the most useful mechanisms for exploring how memory spreads across different groups. Specific mechanisms of collective memory will never be totally understood if investigators continue leaving aside the problem of reception (Hirst & Manier, 2008: 192). Although cultural models shape what deserves to be remembered and forgotten in individuals in order to create, maintain or transform social identities, it is necessary to measure the influence of social practices and cultural resources on community members. This is for the simple reason that, in many cases, the action of sharing memories of community members are what constantly updates collective memory.

No comments: