Culture and collective memory

Comparative perspectives

Authored by: Barry Schwartz

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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Collective memory is not consensual. It refers to the distribution throughout society of what individuals believe and feel about past events and persons, how they judge them morally, how closely they identify with or are repelled by them, and how much they are inspired or appalled by them as models for their conduct and identity. Initially formulated in the West, collective memory’s contents are said to match society’s changing values, interests, power struggles, and structural tensions. Many if not most Western scholars are currently obsessed with historical wrongdoings that violate the dignity of the marginal and powerless. But culture matters. In Northeast Asia, for example, collective beliefs, feelings, and judgments of the past are relatively stable, less sensitive to societal change. The past itself is as much a constituent of individual identity and sense of responsibility as it is a thing to remember. Historical oppressions are, thus, sources of dishonor, and far more memorable than they would be in the Western world. Memories of World War II are one among many other cases in point. As a mine of new observations, concepts, and propositions, the inclusion of Asia enriches the existing state of collective memory knowledge and theory.

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