Memory Studies in Eastern Europe: Key Issues and Future Perspectives
The paper addresses selected issues of the recent growth in Eastern European memory studies: It identifies the unconscious Western imperialism within the recently institutionalized interdisciplinary field of memory studies; Then, it offers arguments for historical sociology in memory studies, and proceeds to critically analyze the recent growth of transnational historical inquiries into European memory and the place within these studies of the research on Eastern Europe. Finally, it raises the theoretical issue of a region as one possible framework of memory and a terrain for legitimate sociological inquiry fuelled by historical data. As such, it serves as an introduction to the current PSR volume on theoretical traditions and propositions for Eastern European memory studies.
Collective Memory, Social Time and Culture: The Polish Tradition in Memory Studies
The research studies on collective memory in Poland have long tradition and clear cultural perspective. The aim of the text is to show this research tradition, which is deeply associated with Durkheimian School legacy, very strong in Poland, both in prewar as well as in postwar period, especially in the work of Stefan Czarnowski, the only Polish member of this School. In this perspective the social memory is closely connected with culture and time. These two categories: culture and social time as important factors in collective memory studies conducted in Poland are object of the present paper.
The paper is composed of three parts. In the first one author explains why relations between social memory, culture and social time are important for evaluation of the Polish research tradition. The second part concerns its cultural perspective and is dedicated to the works of Stefan Czarnowski, who started many years ago the cultural stream in Polish memory studies. The third part presents the idea of social time and relations between sociology of time and memory studies in Polish sociology.
This specificity of the Polish research studies on collective memory is unknown today, especially for foreign researchers. This tradition is worthy to be recollected.
Is There any Sociological Tradition of Social Memory Research? The Polish and the Czech
The paper deals with social memory research done by Polish and Czech sociologists. In Poland it started in the 1960s when an outline of a historical consciousness study was sketched by Nina Assorodobraj-Kula. Although her original concept was soon left out, a series of surveys was conducted. Recently memory has become a popular research field and numerous studies have been employing various research methods. In Czechoslovakia opinion polls on historical consciousness were conducted as early as in the 1940s, and recently a study has started in the Czech Republic that resembles and was probably influenced by earlier Polish survey research. In my paper I try to map out the research done in the two countries in order to identify typical features of the local studies. It seems that in spite of a large quantity of studies published, the character of most of Polish and Czech works on memory were purely descriptive, and any sociologically relevant problems started to be posed only recently. Therefore it may be suggested that although a certain common Polish and Czech tradition of memory research exists, it cannot be called sociological in any strict sense.
On the Potential of Norbert Elias’s Approach in the SocialMemory Research in Central and
Norbert Elias never presented his views regarding collective memory in a systematic manner. However, his approach may be reconstructed on the basis of such works as The Civilizing Process, Time: An Essay and The Symbol Theory. The most important tenet of Elias is that human memory can only be explained by the symbol theory. Human ability to use socially created symbols in communication is applied in activities in which symbols are used (speaking, thinking, knowing and remembering), which makes memory a part of general process of symbolic communication. Memory research needs to account for the interactive and communicational origins of both individual and collective remembering. One of the crucial issues related to remembering is collective forgetting. According to Elias it operates by three main mechanisms: (1) elimination and creation of fantastic notions (fantasy being a substitute and subsidiary for experience), (2) modification of social canons of reference as a result of power struggle in social figurations, and (3) delegitimization of alternative imageries by means of marginalization or elimination of groups acting as their social vehicles. I discuss these mechanisms and the dynamics of memory they entail in the broader conceptual framework of the theory of civilizing processes referring to Central and Eastern European examples in order to demonstrate the productivity of Elias’s interdisciplinary and multidimensional analysis in social memory studies focusing this region.
Bringing Habermas to Memory Studies
In this paper, we attempt to show the fruitfulness of the theory of communicative action for memory studies. Specifically, we intend to demonstrate that concepts characteristic of the discipline, such as „history,” „memory,” and „dialogue,” reflect three types of universal validity claims: „memory” formulates claims to authenticity, „history” formulates claims to truth, and „dialogue” formulates claims to rightness. Thus, it is possible to introduce a seminal Habermasian notion of rationality that rests on validity claims. This notion can serve to integrate, enrich, and identify blind spots in memory studies. Our purpose is to demonstrate the relevance of collective memory to social cohesion (cultural reproduction, social integration, and socialization) and the public sphere (its development and atrophy, rationalization, and colonization).
Magic in the Social Construction of the Past: the Case of Teschen Silesia
The aim of the paper is to consider such ethnolinguistic categories as magic, connotation, and cognitive blending as possible keys to the following questions: How is it possible that we can perfectly adopt different representations of the past and internalize them as our past? How can we reconcile different representations of the past and how is it possible that diverse representations of the past merge in one social memory? Such amalgamations of various forms of representations and diverse scales of objectification can be clarified by means of the theory of magic, by means of the law of resemblance, and the law of contiguity. Such considerations are supported here by empirical study of the construction of social memories in Teschen Silesia, which was divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1920. On both sides of the new border different state institutions emerged and influenced local memories.
On the Usefulness of Aleida and Jan Assmann’s Concept of Cultural Memory for Studying
Local Communities in Contemporary Poland—the Case of Olsztyn
The goal of this article is to review the possibilities and limitations of applying Aleida and Jan Assmann’s concept to the study of local memory, using as an example the memory of inhabitants of the Polish town of Olsztyn. The author first briefly presents selected key premises of Aleida and Jan Assmann’s concept of culturalmemory. She then addresses the question of how the Assmanns’ concept is received and interpreted in Poland. Discussion of these issues leads to an analysis of the advantages and difficulties of applying the two German scholars’ theoretical proposals to the study of memory in local communities. The author refers to the case of a moderately aggregated, urban society with a complicated multiethnic past. Her conclusions concern the challenges scholars face in adopting Aleida and Jan Assmann’s theoretical perspective for studying memory and local communities in this part of Europe.
Remembrance as Embodiment in Polish Contemporary Memories
This article aims to draw attention to the importance of the body in the shaping of personal, family and national memories, and in the process of giving meaning to history and making it understandable, even in its contradictions. Through an ethnographic research carried out in Poland, the paper focus mainly on the construction of family resemblances as an embodied experience of the past, and an entry point for studies on collective and personal memories. Three points will be discussed. First, the relationship between body and memory occurs in the tension between history and heredity, the latter covering both social and biological transmissions. A second nexus between corporeality and memory in family narratives is constructed on a „gendered” and „ethnicized” image of the individual and the social body. Third, memory has been considered as a technique of the body involving senses and practical skills. The concept of embodiment then contributes to a more dynamic, performative and inter-subjective understanding of memory.
Jozef Niżnik (ed.), Twentieth Century Wars in European Memory (Nelly Bekus)