18 October 2009

Discursive approach to collective memory

The approach of discursive-psychology to collective memory (Edwards & Middleton, 1986; Middleton & Edwards, 1990; Middleton & Brown, 2005; Vázquez, 2001) maintains that mental representations which form memory always emerge from the experience in a certain social setting. These representations are discursively conveyed in communicative interactions. This view also considers that the media performs an outstanding role in constructing sites of collective memory because of the large number of available resources that they can count on. The discourse of the media about a shared past determines what can be said, thought, written and also remembered in the society. Scholars from this perspective (Middeton & Edwards, 1990) argue that the discourses of the past pronounced by different social actors usually vary in pragmatic ways due to the fact that they are always constructed with regards to the communicative situation. Therefore, they prefer to talk about collective remembering rather than collective memory for the simple reason that this approach is focussed on the same act of remembering. This perspective holds that discourses of the past do not reflect any internal cognitive process that would be taking place in actors minds during a communicative situation. Discourses of the past should be thought of as descriptions that may change according to the pragmatic and rhetorical functions for which they were designed. That is to say, before being analysed as useful information in order to understand how memory works at a cognitive level, the narratives about past events need to be examined as variable discursive productions endowed with pragmatic and rhetorical functions (Potter & Wetherell, 1987; Edwards & Potter, 1989; Middleton & Edwards, 1990).
Collective remembering (Middeton & Edwards, 1990:40) is an action based on pragmatic goals dependent on the social and conversational context in which it occurs. The study of collective remembering offers important opportunities to understand how it functions as a social action. Its outstanding ability resides in acting as a powerful instrument to legitimate ideological viewpoints in the present about past, current and future episodes.

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