31 January 2010

Family conversations: everyday cases of collective remembering

The act of sharing memories is often realized in practices of collaborative remembering within social groups in everyday verbal interactions. Recent studies in collaborative remembering in psychology (Harris, Paterson & Kemp, 2008; Harris, Barnier, Sutton & Keil, 2009) have demonstrated that practices of collaborative remembering are beneficial in terms of the quantity and quality of information recalled. In other words, the evidence shows that some people remember more information more efficiently together than they do alone (Harris et al., 2008: 225).
The type of the material asked to be recalled also exerts a strong influence on processes of joint remembering. Nevertheless, one basic condition must be given beforehand in order to reach this positive scenario: social groups must be established and long standing. In other words, social groups involved in practices of collaborative remembering must be cohesive in terms of shared autobiographical knowledge. Each member should be endowed with the ability to make a vast amount of inferences about other members’ cognitive and emotional states with little overt information. That is why each member’s presupposed knowledge of other members and the group as a whole plays a central role in processes of collaborative remembering. Now the question is: what kind of social group has a long-standing shared memory system that enables members to interact and work as sociocognitive system? Without doubt, families represent a privileged example of such a group. Thus, I believe that family conversations may be considered as an outstanding instance in which practices of collaborative recall (Harris, Paterson & Kemp, 2008) take place. Fivush claims that reminiscing is part of everyday interactions within virtually all families (2008:52). Practices of storytelling in everyday family conversations are usually about events of the day experienced by each member of the family alone depending on their family roles (e.g. how hard work was today; what the teacher explained about the causes of poverty, etc.). These practices may also refer to events the family experienced together (e.g. the last holidays in France) or to familiar past (e.g. the parents’ engagement; the grandparents’ adventures, etc.). Family conversations play a central role at the time of constructing and structuring autobiographical memory and self development throughout childhood (Fivush, 2008; Fivush, Bohanek & Duke, 2008).

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