On September 21st we held our first coffee hour of the 2022-2023 academic year. Our guest was Jim Wertsch. The paper for discussion was “Habits of Collective Memory,” extending Jim’s work in recent decades on social, cultural, national memory. In the lively discussion that followed Jim’s brief summary of the paper, Jim’s made clear his deep concern with the way in which competing narratives of nationhood become deeply ingrained, largely unconscious, habits that are very resistant to change. The results of confrontations among nations, consequently, result in “mnemonic standoffs” that cannot be changed by counter “facts.” The current standoff between Russia and NATO over Ukraine served as an example of the dangers of habitual collective memory.
You can read the automatic transcription of the text here: closed_caption.
You can access the chat conversation that unfolded during the Zoom session.
Just adding a thought, as Mike suggests we all test out this platform!: I keep thinking, since the discussion, about Meixi’s point of imaging with more than the past. I think we are partly raised by our future selves (this was my experience of inventing how be a parent as a queer person in the 1990’s). This is not quite imagining something, actually. Or it’s a process of collective imagining that FEELS like collective remembering.
Thanks for the questions, folks. I have made a copy of all the comments and will send them to Jim. Hopefully he will have time to respond.
Are not all memories collective to the extent that they are mediated by concepts? The physiological remembering of smells may be un-mediated but even here a memory concerning the significance of a smell is likely to be shaped by the web of concepts one has constructed in interactions with others. It could be argued that ‘our’ minds are no more ‘our own’ than our languages.
I agree here that all memories are collective and mediated by concepts. I remember my grandmother’s house whenever I smell peanut butter biscuits- even though it’s the smell that ignites the memory, what it is I remember (the daisy bushes, the loquat trees) are mediated by a web of concepts that have emerged through a collective construction of ‘granny’s house’.
Got it – Gracias!
Dear Jim et al,
Thank you for sharing the text and thought provoking presentation. My initial interest was in discussing the mediational means and psychological/cultural tools of collective memory ( i distinguish those). I was also wondering about the interplay of volition and historical spontaneity in the collective remembering.
Got it, will catch up.
Hello Coffee Sipper Colleagues,
Thank you for organizing this conversation Mike and for those who contributed!
While reading Natalia’s comment, I remembered that I had a similar reaction in terms of the context for the manuscript we together discussed. While I understood the case being made, for me, Piaget’s schema is less useful than other concepts that Vygotsky proposed and that have been developed by other researchers. Like the role of the agency of the individual working in the collective in shifting that memory and really in creating the memory itself. I feel we do decide what to keep and what to take (or what to remember or what to forget) up to a certain level, even within that collective memory and the manuscript focused more in the habits and less in our own roles, as individuals and society members, in the process. In any case, very happy to have participated in the discussion of the role of the collective in memory, habits, schema.
Hi Patricia- I strongly recommend that you check our Bartlett’s concept of schema as social convention. There is a paper at Academia by J. Cole and M.Cole entitled “Re-fusing
Anthropology and Psychology” .
Hi Mike and Jim and Dear All,
Please, see my initial email (before the meeting) below. I just want to add that I enjoyed our coffee hour with Jim and would like to see the continuation of our discussion in this new space.
P.S. My email from September 14 to Jim:
Thank you, Dr. Wertsch, for inviting us to read your draft of the topic of considerable interest to me. Since reading the chapter on Appropriation and Resistance in Mind as Action many years ago, I have kept returning to the analysis of collective memory and competing narratives in Estonia as one of the case studies for my students in my Vygotsky seminar. I precisely like that chapter because of the choice of units of analysis from Activity Theory and internationalization mediational means from Vygotsky theory. Applying these two theories to analyze people’s collective memory in Estonia seemed proper and productive.
In the current draft, however, different units of analysis – narrative, habit, and Piagetian schema – are used.
So my curiosity question is whether the departure from Vygotsky and the formation of higher psychological function and Leont’ev and his activity theory in the current draft is due to the unsatisfactory explanatory power of those in the analysis of collective memory or some other reasons. More specifically – why the “schemas development” of Piaget and not the “concepts development” of Vygotsky? In conclusion, I think the topic is of profound importance. I was recently reminded of the powerful quote from Milan Kundera “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” which seems to be also a theme for Dr. Wertsch conclusive remarks as well.
I had the same general question, Natalia. About the absence of Vygotsky &Leontiev.
But I heard Jim using a notion of schema broader than either Vygotsky or Leontiev meant by concept. Any, I am of little help here because I find Bartlett closer to melding the social with the conceptual. The connections to narratologists in both psych and the humanities seem to point in this direction….to me.
Got it! Will catch up when I can
Hi Jim, first is there a bibliographic entry yet for your manuscript?
More on topic: I’m studying the “mediated memory” of a high school English teacher whose recollection of her university mentoring shifted over a 9 year longitudinal study as she experienced different settings. In many ways it’s her individual memory. But I’m wondering if, in a sense, all memory is collective in that her memories were embedded in other discourses, e.g., those situated within schooling’s traditions (progressive, formalist, etc.). Any help? thx,Peter Smagorinsky
Its good to see that you are able to post, Peter, and that I get a notice. I hope you will get a notice of this. I also need to check with Jim if he is notified to new additions to the discussion.
From the little I know of the case, I am guessing it is collective, too, in the written archive that she carries around with her wherever she goes, and her accumulation of “stuff” that was once shared with others.
Jim-How is deep, habitualized, use of socio-cultural-historical scripts related to the concept
of ethos and ethnocentrism?