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Lest We Forget: Media Culture and the Formation of Collective Memory by Liam French

The concept and the experiments of memory belongs to the field of psychology, which tries to make research and experiments based on computational (sayılabilir (türkçe computer, bilgisayar, which is data computer to be exact on the translation) data, and does so by looking into the head, the inside, of the subject. even though the memory has an important role in the construction of society, and our memory is shaped by the external world, and it is mainly still studied in the realm of psychology.

The concept of the collective memory, however, is openly embracing the social, the external, and so transforms memory into a social matter. On the light of this approach, collective memory is an interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary on its nature. (for me, this makes it a great subject of art)

The collective memory is NOT only the shared individual memories. The collective memory is a “set of memories that are shared, passed on, and constructed by the group, as opposed to an individual subject” (Whitehead, 2009)

Halbwachs: memory is social, more than individual. It is shaped by the cultural and social environment.

collective frameworks are...precisely the instruments used by the collective memory to reconstruct an image of the past which is in accord, in each epoch, with the predominant thoughts of the society (Halbwachs 1925 /1992:40).

>our cultural and social environments are rapidly growing though the modern technologies of internet, mass media etc. >CA

The collective memory is NOT only the shared individual memories. There is an interdependent relation between the individual and the collective, also in the sense of memory. Halbwachs states that individual memories are the outcome of the relations and experiences of the individual with the outside world, so the individual memory is also a product of the social. Thus we can say that the memory is intersubjective and shared.

(note: Halbwachs was a student of Emile Durkheim, who introduced the concept of “collective consciousness” - these two concepts share the same ground, Durkheim differentiated the modern human society from the primitive ones [those of animals and early human societies], saying that the primitive society’s solidarity is on the “mechanical” level as the differences between each individual of that society are not that vast, they are more or less similar; while in the modern society there are many ways individuals differ, and that results in an “organic” solidarity, crucial to the permanence of the society.)

McQuire (1998) claims that aspects of the everyday human life started to change drastically the temporal economy of industrial culture. He believed the cause of this was mainly the decline in the oral traditions and spoken narratives. The camera was an ideal technological invention that fit perfectly in the light of this change process, and humankind’s desire to adapt to it.

(for the camera) “It offered a talisman for memory in an era in which the past was under threat and time itself seemed to be accelerating” (McQuire 1998)

As the oral transmission of information started to decline, the rituals and routines of small groups gave their places to mass media texts, which literally boomed at the late 20th century through electronic media. This change is crucial as it was one of the most effective steps taken in the way of “externalizing (exteriorization of) memory”.

cultural representations - photographs, audio visual texts, books, newspapers, magazines, tv shows, movies

through all of these, memory has shifted from being something that is shared by the small community that are unified though place or ancestry, into something that is shared by people that have no relation to each other, in terms of their geographical and historical backgrounds. (Lipsitz, 1990)

[oh the internet, the digital reality, how people unite around an image of a potato, culture is shaped by new variables now, —— the formation culture does lie within methods of communication >CA]

The capitalist approach:

“semi unconscious labor by memory workers- (conscious?) producers and consumers”

the producers (elite memory workers) of course take the high ground on this two way relation, they feed the consumer with (electronic) memories that are internalized by the recipients, and a collective memory is thus constructed. Of course, the power relations become important in this context; the “elite” with their possession and control of media, are determining what is going to be “recorded” in the collective memory, and as it is in every system that exists, they are working for the sustainability of current system’s existence.

“In both McQuire's and Leavy's accounts, there is perhaps a danger of assuming that the emergence of the media and cultural industries in the late nineteenth century gradually displaced more authentic, organic and genuine forms of collective memory in the (romanticized) distant past. Furthermore, irrespective of the historical accuracy or veracity of such accounts, some critics have intimated that their applicability to the media culture of the twenty-first century is debatable.”

In the internet culture, everyone is (potentially) a content creator, therefore I think it’s right to be skeptical about these theories, or at least they should be adapted to the present conditions. Of course currently individuals are able to reach masses though new mediums, even though this is a step towards democratization of knowledge and weakening the line between the producer and the consumer, it is still certain channels that are used by the individuals, with the limit of the each channel (as youtube, instagram etc) and again the medium is defining the message. Also, the former power holders are still power holders, they integrate to the new media: those such as CNN, BBC, Google, Facebook, they are the ones with the most “followers” and they are the ones that are “credible” and so they still are shaping the collective more than the individual. Individual contributors that also shape the collective memory, are also using the information given by the bigger companies as their resource of information. >CA

Bodnar (1992) made a distinction between the official memory and the vernacular memory. He believed that the collective memory is a combination of the official and the vernacular memories. The intersection of these two hemispheres and their interpretations of the past events constitute collective memory.

'Vernacular memory’ … designates forms of collective memory that are local and particular, unofficial and derived from the micro-cultures of everyday life and lived experience of 'the people’.

The idea of the vernacular memory can be taken at hand with the current digital media. The democratization of the production of digital content by the former-consumers has great value in this sense, we can finally create a hybrid, true digital memory that constitutes of an intersection of: -official memory for the information that is out of reach of the vernacular -vernacular memory for the information that will be obscured by the official for political purposes. >CA

9/11 as an example

the instances that are not covered in the media- the USA runs the world, is a tragedy of the USA more important than a tragedy in Mongolia? The answer is an obvious no, but it is what everybody is going to remember, right? accepting that we are going to remember what happens in the US - obviously, the one who holds the power is determining the history, and constructing the collective memory. however, the bigger deal is the difference between the remembered reality and the actual reality, the act of 9/11 is an act of memory, realized by the "Taliban" (oh boy) but HOW it is going to be remembered, is based on HOW is it TOLD, i think the one who causes/commences the act is thus not always the same one who decides HOW it is remembered. >CA

Next to the 9/11 events, the attack on Pentagon is less photographed, less discussed, and therefore will not live in the collective memory in the coming future. One may think of the political reasons behind these (no1: it didn't actually happen (lol conspriacy) - no2: the pentagon should keep its robust image - so on. when you ask someone what happened on 9/11 the answer you'd more likely get is: "Attack on the World Trade Center." but not "Multiple attacks in the US, the worst being the Twin Tower attacks" - Although maybe this basically has more to do with the tendency to remember the the event of the biggest impact, as biggest amount of casualties were in the WTC.)

In conclusion, this text suggests that the role of media in forming the collective memory is not fully understood and perfectly defined yet.


Collective memory: Conceptual foundations and theoretical approaches James V. Wertsch and Henry L. Roediger III

In this paper Wertsch and Roediger emphasize the lack of definition for the “collective memory”

Collective Memory vs Collective remembering

Collective remembering includes the “repeated reconstruction of representations of the past” - Contestation is a key word here, as it promotes the debate, the process. Bodnar’s approach to the collective memory by the division of the official culture and the vernacular culture as two elements that are in a continuous battle, tells us that the collective memory can be thought as a space with changing dynamics. Wertsch and Roediger conclude by saying the collective memory can be seen as something more “static” while the collective remembering (notice the -ing) emphasizes the debate. So Bodnar’s approach is closer to the ACT of remembering. -and maybe should actually be named collective remembering

History vs Collective remembering

History aims to give a static, unbiased, accurate understanding of the past. While in the collective remembering, the past is connected interpretatively to the present, the facts can change. Wertsch and Roediger give the example of Columbus, as the man who “discovered” America, which is known to be wrong yet still accepted as true by the general public. so in history, Columbus did not discover America, but in the collective remembering it is still the accepted norm.

‘‘we speak so much of memory because there is so little of it left’’ (p. 7), and we have a felt need to create lieux de me ́moire (sites of memory) ‘‘because there are no longer milieux de me ́moire, real environments of memory’ (Nora, 1989)

Assman gives a really good example of this by comparing Moses and Akhenaten. Akhenaten was a Pharaoh, a victim of “damnatio memoriae” by his contemporaries. Still his existence was proven with archeological findings in the 19th century. However the historical existence of Moses was never proved, and today there are many people that believe in the existence of Moses and his doings.

Assmann notes, Moses ‘‘grew and developed only as a figure of memory, absorbing and embodying all traditions that pertained to legislation, liberation, and monotheism’’ (1997, p. 23). [all of the prophets share this attribute >CA]

Based on this approach, for something to be a part of collective remembering, there has to be a connection to the present day, “a connection to the cultural discourse and identity”

“In collective remembering, ‘‘The past is not simply ‘received’ by the present. The present is ‘haunted’ by the past and the past is modeled, invented, reinvented, and reconstructed by the present.’’ (Assmann, 1997, p. 9)

Collective remembering:

involves an identity project (usually based on a narrative of heroism, a golden age, victim- hood, etc.);

is impatient with ambiguity;

ignores counter-evidence in order to preserve established narratives;

relies on implicit theories, schemas, and 
scripts that simplify the past and ignore substantiated findings that do not fit the narrative;

is conservative and resistant to change.


aspires to arrive at an objective account of the past, regardless of consequences for identity;

recognizes complexity and ambiguity;

may revise existing narratives in light of new 
evidence (from archives, etc.);

is constrained by archival materials;

can change in response to new information. 

Individual Remembering vs Collective Remembering

Individual remembering is the subject of psychology and neurology and there has been many experiments regarding it, it is basically divided in three parts called “episodic memory” “semantic memory” and “working memory”

‘‘memory is social. . . . it is located in institutions rather than in individual human minds in the form of rules, laws, standardized procedures, and records, a whole set of cultural practices through which people recognize a debt to the past’’. (Schudson, 1995)

individual remembering is done by individuals that are socially situated, which means they use “cultural tools” (such as written symbols, information storage on computers and mnemotechnics) to remember. What makes it collective is the fact that these individuals of a group use the same tools for the act of remembering. Here, the act of remembering presents a relationship between the individual and the cultural tool, this duality constitutes a memory system.

“it does emphasize the memory is ‘‘distributed’’ and relies extensively on semiotic means provided by cultural, historical, and institutional contexts.”

The written and spoken language serves as a cultural tool.

“A major historical transformation in this regard came with what Donald (1991) calls the third transition in human cognitive evolution, one characterized by ‘‘the emergence of visual symbolism and external memory as major factors in cognitive architecture’’ (p. 17)” “Donald stresses that these new forms of external symbolic storage have a transformational impact on psychological and neurological processes; they ‘‘impose search strategies, new storage strategies, new memory access routes, new options in both the control of an analysis of one’s own thinking’’ (1991, p. 19)”

Yes. Our individual memory is becoming less credible, we forget things more, and now our ability to reach new knowledge is rising, we are improving in some ways with the tools, and getting more blunt on others with the change in our cultural tools.