Saturday, July 02, 2005

Summary of Jeffrey K. Olick's "Collective Memory: The Two Cultures"

Olick, Jeffrey K. "Collective Memory: The Two Cultures." Sociological Theory 17.3 (1999): 333-348.

Olick argues that collective memory is often used to two very different types of memory: collected memory and collective memory. Collected memories, he suggests, are memories based on the individual, "the aggregated individual memories of members of a group" (338), and collective memory presupposes that there is something that transcends the individual, the idea that "symbols and their systems of relations have a degree of autonomy from the subjective perceptions of individuals" (341).

He discusses the advantages and constraints of both concepts and clearly favors the concept of collective memory over that of collected memories. He notes that the collective memory perspective allows us to "provide good explanations of mythology, tradition, heritage, and the like either as forms or in particular" (342). The study of collective memory, he suggests, often focuses on idelogical products, symbols, and monuments: "we often use the collective nature of the object of analysis to stand for an argument about the collective nature of our approach" (342 n. 13).

Finally, he suggests that we adopt the term social memory for collective memory: "The third possible solution, the one I advocate here, is to use collective memory as a sensitizing term for a wide variety of mnemonic processes, practices, and outcomes, neurological, cognitive, personal, aggregated, and collective. A better term for such an approach would be social memory studies. Unlike collective memory studies, social memory studies does not raise confusions about its objects of reference. And unlike another candidate--social studies of memory, which sounds as if the social component is outside of memory, that is, in the study of it--it remains presuppostiionally open to a variety of phenomena while pointing out that all remembering is in some sense social, whether it occurs in dreams or pageants, in remembrances or in textbooks" (346).

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