Other ways of remembering

Do local peoples—hunter-gatherer, farmers, and others who are “missing” from historical records remember in the same way? In subjecting memories to maps, we alter the knowledge..

If one definition of culture is shared and learnable knowledge, transmitted across generations in space and time, then memory is obviously a key concern for ethnographers. But there’s a problem in “capturing” memory. What people say they remember of certain events or episodes is different from what they actually remember. The former are their narratives or metanarratives, if you will, which involves representation in language and is “not just situated in [social] process, it is moulded and modified by it to a significant degree” (to quote Maurice Bloch). The latter, their memories, might not involve language at all. That aside, we contend with powerful exclusionary practices, the politics of forgetting. As anthropologist Geoffrey White puts it: “acts of representation are also acts of mystification, silencing, and exclusion.”

In remembering the past, selectively, some aspects will become marginalised. Marginalisation too is not just in who is remembering or what is being remembered, but also includes their memory practices. State-sponsored knowledge—as communicated through school curricula—tends to be homogenous, imposed, and is often experienced as such. The problem is that official ways of thinking tend to become normative, even hegemonic. In dominant modes of memory-making, memories are filtered through printed words, personality cults, commemorative practices, monumentalism, and the like.

Read more of this article on New Mandala.


This article is based on seminar titled “Other ways of remembering” which will be presented in the ANU Malaysia Institute Seminar Series 2021 on Thursday, 30 September, 2021 – 16:00 to 17:10 (AEST).

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