Debate About Collective Memory

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Debate on Collective Memory

One of the most distinguishing aspects in Maurice Halbwachs’ discourse in social frameworks of memory is the strong association of memory with cultural perceptions. Through various examples, Halbwachs illustrates the existence of collective memory and social memory frameworks. He goes further to assert that our personal thoughts reside in these social frameworks which actively play a role in the process of recollection. We are able to remember things more vividly and with a higher degree of clarity when parents, friends, or fellow members of our society recall them for us. The associative ability of our memories largely relies on our cultural surroundings.

Clifford Geertz maintains that our expectations are conceptualized through our general stock of theoretical concepts as defined by our cultures. In this view Geertz is in agreement with Halbwachs’ concept of social frameworks of memory. In response to his critics, Michael Foucault invokes Halbwachs’ social frameworks by asserting that theories are results of “established regimes of thought” (Halbwach 38). He attributes criticism against him to features and events that have been socially accepted by virtue of our being in contact with them repeatedly. He calls the recalling and accepting of these virtues “a return of knowledge” (Foucault 81). His description of these virtues that form culture is in agreement with Halbwachs’ social frameworks of memory.

Halbwachs maintains that individuals should be considered as isolated beings as most psychological treatises try to portray. Such arguments demand that in order to understand human mental operations we first have to sever all connections of the individual with the society. He calls this an erroneous process since the individual derives a large part of his or her memory from the society. It is from the society that they are able to “recall, recognize and localize their memories” (Halbwachs 38). All our daily recollections in any day are the result of our direct or indirect association with other members of the society since we appeal to our memories to answer questions that have been asked or we believe they might have asked us. In providing answers we put ourselves in the same social context as the other people in order to be properly understood. Our memory is therefore subjected to the kind of society we are in.

Michel Foucault recognizes the social framework of memory while describing the phenomenon of insurrection subjugated knowledges. He describes subjugated knowledges in two ways. The first way is as “the historical contents that have been buried and disguised in a functionalist coherence or formal systemization” (Foucult 81). Secondly, subjugated knowledges refer to the historical content of the society that would help us discover who we truly are from where we came from but are disguised. Subjugated knowledges can thus be defined as blocks of historical contents that make it possible for us to keep on rediscovering the adverse effects of the struggle between our true selves and the norms imposed on us by the functionalist or systematic mental disguise. The mental disguise he is referring to is the social framework of our cultural memory.

Foucault states that criticism thrives well when people have lost the perception of differential knowledge which does not rely on unanimous acceptance but instead rely on local popular knowledge to disqualify the truth. This opinion lends credence to Halbwachs’ viewpoint of the society being the determinant of how concepts, items, and other phenomena are called to memory.

While describing the relationship between memory and language, Halbwachs renounces the idea that our pasts are stored in our memories like cabinet drawers. He argues that people living together in a society are held together by the use of words they find to be commonly intelligible. This is a major condition is for collective thought. Every word that they...
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