The Social Frameworks Of Collective Memory
In the early twentieth century, near the time when Freud's findings were being popularized, sociologists began to inquire into the nature of semantic memory as a realm of remembrance of a different order—socially conditioned memory, often tacitly understood. Here the memory was considered in its social context, as subject to social and cultural influences. The French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941) prepared the way at the turn of the twentieth century by pointing out the difference between the memory of specific events and the memory of enduring attitudes, a distinction he correlated with that between the moment and duration. The French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs (1877–1945) elaborated a more complete theory of collective memory during the 1920s. For him, collective memory is a function of social power, and its expression varies with the social settings in which we find ourselves. We localize images of the past within imaginary frameworks that conform to our social understanding. For that reason, collective memory is provisional until it is evoked within specific social contexts, and its form and strength is relative to the social forces that impinge on our present circumstances. Without such social props, collective memory cannot survive. Halbwachs was especially insightful about how commemorative practices assimilate specific images of episodic memory into the idealized structures of semantic memory. As for its place in the history of ideas, Halbwachs's theory draws on the method of the art of memory to demonstrate how the strategic mobilization of commemorative monuments in mnemonic landscapes reinforces officially sanctioned collective memory.
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