8 October 2010

Memory Studies: a multidisciplinary field

References to the past are grounded in all levels of human experience. They play a central role in the processes by which individuals, social groups and institutions define themselves and assign meaning to the world. Far from being an established and monolithic account of the past, one’s memories are continually being reshaped and relaborated by means of interaction with other people and cultural resources such as technological devices, textbooks, rituals, commemorations, memorials, and the media. Moreover, processes of remembering always emerge in situated activities, the goal of which goes far the mere act of remembering.

At both the community and national levels, socially shared memories are extremely important in the negotiation and consolidation of social representations of national or community pasts. These collective memories are the basis for the emergence of feelings of identity and social belonging. The emotional bounds created by these memories do not only refer to the shared past (e.g. London’s terrorist attacks), but they also map onto the present and future, and thereby, determine behavioral patterns (e.g. discriminatory discourses towards Muslims in the UK). Collective memories operate by constructing a “common sense” which plays an important role in the assigning of meaning to new experiences. This is why collective representations of the past are the milestone of social identities. At both the individual and interpersonal levels, who we are and who our loves one think we are would be unknown if memories, and the emotions embedded in them, were not functioning to sustain the individual and interpersonal self. Unfortunately, the real world has shown us what occurs in patients suffering from Alzheimer disease. The progressive deterioration of the self in these patients is indicated by its earliest symptoms: forgetfulness, disorientation in regards to time or place, and difficulty with concentration, calculation, language and judgment. As we have noted, all of these symptoms are memory-driven cognitive processes.

The complexity of the interdisciplinary field of memory studies is a reflection of the fact that different layers of experience must be interconnected in meaningful ways, bridging the gap between subjectivities and the social and cultural milieu.

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