8 February 2011

Remembering in the wild: towards a cognitive pragmatics of collective remembering

(Postdoctoral project 2011-2013)

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, (KWI), Essen

Shared and distributed collective memories are utilized to create a feeling of connection and maintain a consistent feeling of identity among group members. Intimate people and strangers are strategically engaged in processes of remembering and forgetting, which are modeled according to the specific goals of a particular interaction. In both cases, members of groups construct a sociocognitive system, which is shaped by the physical and social environment in which they are located. This sociocognitive system enables intimate people to connect, interrelate and manage the autobiographical knowledge and memories which are distributed among them and form part of shared past experiences. On the other hand, between strangers, this sociocognitive system acts by integrating socially shared knowledge organized in multimodal cultural and situation models, which is also distributed among members, and autobiographical memories based on personal experiences. The interanimation of language use and cognition must be considered as an interactive process which operates by providing the properties that contribute to how a speaker shapes a communicative act, how the addressee interprets such an act, and finally how the entire communication is regulated by joint attentional processes. Discourse and communication enable humans “to read” each other’s minds and, therefore, endow group members with the ability to make strategic inferences about other people’s mental representations. This ability allows us to adapt and re-adapt our behavior during the course of social interactions.
The descriptions of past experiences have an important verbal and non-verbal discourse dimension which has been often neglected or under-theorized in memory studies. The conversational context of remembering plays a central role by guiding cognitive processes of editing and formatting responses in conversations about past experiences. Studies in collective remembering conducted both in real world settings and within the boundaries of the laboratory acknowledge the key role that the communicative situation plays by guiding processes of collective remembering within small groups.However, little attention has been paid to better understanding how contexts and discourse influence acts of sharing memories in communicative interactions. Intimate people and strangers make use of verbal and non-verbal discourse strategies such as presuppositions and implicatures, metaphors, reminders, evidentials, rejections and corrections, reformulations, agreements and gestures in relation to shared knowledge of the past. These discourse strategies serve to attribute meaning and to establish what these memories are about. Discourse strategies are defined as the cognitive processes involved in complex tasks such as speaking, comprehension and interaction. These strategies are not always conscious and their discursive realization is reflected in coherent sequences of moves, which are focused on the accomplishment of an interactional goal. These strategies are created in accordance with a cognitive representation of the context that controls the ways of representing oneself in relation to the environment. These unique mental representations of the communicative interaction are defined as context models. The pragmatic and communicative relevance of context models relies on the fact that they control the way in which speakers accommodate their utterances to the communicative situation.
The aim of this project is to explore the ways in which a distributed and sometimes shared knowledge of the past is re-constructed, managed, communicated and negotiated in everyday interactions between intimate people and strangers by means of verbal and non-verbal discourse strategies in accordance with shifting context models. The distributed sociocognitive system that emerges between participants in a conversation about past experiences needs to be sustained in mental representations of the knowledge, ideologies, goals, intentions, plans, norms, values and emotions of each of the participants in order to be able to coordinate and synchronize the different personal agendas and interests. These changing and updating mental representations are based on shifting context models.

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