Social Psychology

Commemoration and memory

The OU is celebrating its 50th birthday! This is of course a big event for everyone involved with the university. As the official message puts it, In our anniversary year, we will tell our story and create moments that inspire pride, unity and involvement.’ This kind of commemoration is also of interest to psychologists, and especially social psychologists, because of the complex connections between remembering and the telling of memories. In this blog post for DD317 and social psychology, Stephanie Taylor discusses some of the issues involved.

Most people are aware that remembering doesn’t operate as a kind of mental ‘video replay’ of the past. They may have experienced doubt about their own memory of an event like a family party, wondering if they recall the actual occasion or just what they were told about it subsequently. Discursive psychologists are interested in the construction of memories. This is not an argument that all memories are false but a suggestion that two questions need to be asked about anyone’s account of what they remember. The first is ‘Why are you talking about this (memory) now?’ and the second, ‘Why are you talking about it in this way?’.

The point of the first question is that a story about the past fulfils functions in the present, for instance, in the case of a commemoration, to inspire pride and encourage unity. The point of the second question is that a story about the past is always just one possible version. There could be a different telling, if only because memory is inevitably partial. Otherwise, as the psychologist Jens Brockmeier has put it, ‘completely recalling one’s life would take as long as one’s life itself’ (2002 p.23). Total memory is impossible, so we should recognise that any account of what is remembered is a selective construction, with a purpose. Read more…

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