Sunday, March 11, 2012

Maurice Halbwachs – "Historical Memory and Collective Memory" – summary and review – part 2

In the chapter titled "Historical Memory and Collective Memory" in his book The Collective Memory Maurice Halbwachs discusses the function of collective memory in early childhood. According to Halbwachs, the instant children begin to take interest in the meaning of things around them is the instant they start to take part in the collective memory. Therefore, for Halbwachs, inter-generational relations play a key role in the formation and shaping of memory. Childhood memories are always revisited from the present and Halbwachs attributes a critical function to one's social surroundings in the manner in which we approach these memories.
Halbwachs suggests collective memory and historical memory as opposed to one another on to key issues:
1.       Collective memory, according to Halbwachs, exists outside time and space and is continues throughout the generations. Collective memory is neither elaborate nor detailed and is in a state of constant change according to society's needs. Historical memory, on the other hand, schematizes memory, classifies it and views it in great detail.
2.       Collective memory, says Halbwachs, is not one or something unified. Collective memory is, in fact, an assortment of collective memories. It is adapted to various groups and interpretations, and is therefore flexible and fluid, inaccurate and sometimes even self-contradictory. Collective memory sustains society as such and is therefore inward-turned and culturally subjective. Historical memory, on the other hand, attempts at presenting a single objective truth and has an outer perspective.
 Halbwachs viewed collective memory as a social fact. He perceived collective memory as something which exists outside the individual consciousness and there for an inherent part of social life. The function Halbwachs attributes collective memory is one of social consolidation much like the totemic principle suggested by Emile Durkheim. However, Durkheim and Halbwachs are divided on two issues. While Durkheim  suggests the past as leading to the present, Halbwachs suggests the present as returning to the past. Secondly, Durkhiem's take on things tends to imagine a unified society, while Halbwachs accounts for a multiplicity of collective memories.  

suggested reading on Halbwachs and collective memory: