Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Following up

1. What is the difference between 'social' and 'collective' memory?

This distinction is made by the historian Geoffrey Cubitt in History and Memory (Manchester, 2007). For Cubitt, 'social memory' is *not* the group equivalent to individual memory (i.e. not the memory of a group). Rather, 'the term is a general one, which covers the process (or processes) through which a knowledge or awareness of past events or conditions is developed and sustained within human societies, and through which, therefore, individuals within those societies are given the sense of a past that extends beyond what they themselves personally remember' (Cubitt, 2007, pp 14-15). So questions of social memory relate to how understandings of the past are produced, disseminated and shared (or not) beyond the individual, including conflicts and contests over these. In other words, 'social memory' is concerned with memory as a social phenomena.

For Cubitt, 'collective memory' is not the same as 'social memory' rather it refers to types of 'ideological fiction' that *claim* that groups (or collectivities, if you prefer) *do* share the same memories and 'presents particular views or representations of a supposedly collective past as the natural expressions' of such groups (Cubitt, 2007, p. 18). 'Collective memories' are generated through the processes of 'social memory' and could involve powerful institutions (e.g. the state) disseminating particular understandings of the past and asserting that they are common to a group (though they might not be).

A lot of historical work on memory and memorialisation involves examing the social processes through which claims about collective memory are produced, disseminated and accepted - or resisted and challenged.

2. What is meant by 'trauma'?

The following is from Geoffrey Cubitt's History and Memory (Manchester, 2007):

'Experiences that brutally disrupt people's expectations and relationships do not merely generate memories that are painful in themselves; the difficulty of assimilating these memories to [p. 109] conventional narratives of personal experience can make them more profoundly disruptive...Sometimes minds deal with traumatic threats by struggling to repress the memory of disturbing experience; in other cases there may be an uncontrollable recurrence of impressions whose horrifically vivid immediacy can find no place in the carefully stabilized structures of autobiographical recollection' (pp 108-109; see pp 108-110 more generally).

This is an account of trauma on 'individual memories'. For the 'social' effects of trauma (i.e. trauma in relation to Cubitt's idea of 'social memory' - see here) we need to use the idea of 'cultural trauma', which was discussed in the reading for this seminar. See...

Rossington, Michael and Anne Whitehead (eds), ‘Trauma’ in Theories of Memory: A Reader (Edinburgh, 2007), pp. 185-211.

3. Can you explain a little more about the concept of 'cultural trauma' and how it relates the argument in Joy DeGruy’s work?
Alexander and Eyerman would not deny psychological (or physical) trauma - as Eyerman puts it: 'That slavery was traumatic may seem obvious, and, for those who experienced it directly, certainly it must have been' (Eyerman, 2001, p. 2). Nevertheless, they would argue that the trauma that continues to be associated with slavery and how this resonates today cannot be explained in psychological terms alone i.e. as DeGruy does with her account of behaviours passed on down the generations. Rather, it needs to be accounted for through the actions of carrier groups who give meaning to a past historical experience and ensure that it remains alive. (Note that Eyerman's account is populated by writers, intellectuals, activists and other mediators.) If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Alexander and Eyerman would see DeGruy as part of psycho-medical carrier group.