Рогожина Екатерина Павловна Rogozhina Ekaterina Pavlovna Компьютерные игры как источник формирования исторической памяти Video games as a source of historical memory formation

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«Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет»

Рогожина Екатерина Павловна

Rogozhina Ekaterina Pavlovna
Компьютерные игры как источник формирования исторической памяти

Video games as a source of historical memory formation

Д и с с е р т а ц и я

на соискание степени магистра

по основной образовательной программе высшего образования

по направлению 040100 «Социология»,

профиль «Европейские общества» / MA «Studies in European Societies»

Научный руководитель / Scientific supervisor:

доктор социологических наук,

Иванов Д.В.

Dr. Dmitry Ivanov

Рецензент / Reviewer:

кандидат социологических наук,

Широканова А.А.

Dr. Anna Shirokanova



Table of contents
Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 3

Chapter 1. Theoretical foundations for study of video games as a source of collective memory formation ………………………………………………...…………………… 7

    1. Collective memory: A definition and key concepts …………………………..... 9

    2. Defining video games …………………………………………………………. 24

Chapter 2. Games: Nostalgic memories or a threat to the future? ………………… 30

2.1. Games as new media ………………………………………………………….. 30

2.2. Possible approaches to investigation of video games: At the intersection of memory and media studies ……………………………………………………………... 33

2.3. Historical reconstruction and narratives in video games …………………….... 40

Chapter 3. Video games as a sourse of collective memory: An empirical study …. 52

3.1. Data collection ………………………………………………………………… 53

3.2. Informants …………………………………………………………………….. 54

3.3. Games …………………………………………………………………………. 54

3.4. Data analysis …………………………………………………………………... 56

3.5. Findings ……………………………………………………………………….. 57

Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………... 77

List of sourses ………………………………………………………………………….. 80

Appendix A. Interview guide …………………………………………………………. 88

Appendix B. Sample of the interview ………………………………………………… 90

In the era of total connectedness and virtualization of reality, the crucial importance for the balance of forces on the world stage requires the capacity of states in the informational sphere, particularly in the context of cyberspace. Information outburst and technological advancement now make it possible to create and use qualitatively new instruments towards achieving political and strategic goals. Arab Spring and the Ukranian crisis are both convincing evidence of the fact that nowadays global public opinion is formed by the active participation of advanced information and communication technologies. Interactive TV (iTV), the world wide web with its news portals and social networks have become effective tools in framing and driving both domestic and foreign policy in today’s contemporary world. It thus becomes imperative for these new methodoligies to attract particular attention and demands a certain reflection.

According to Gartner’s report, “the number of computers being used today has exceeded 1 billion”1. The number of Internet users is even larger: in 2014 it amounted to more than 3 billion people2. Nearly two billion of them are gamers3. The increasing role of communication technologies in the development of the information society has resulted in the natural growth of interest in their features on the part of academic community. The last 15 years have been marked by the appearance of the impressive number of publications related to the virtual space in general (Frasca, 2003; Burn, 2007; Gee, 2007; Linderoth, 2008); special attention was drawn to opportunities of the Internet and video games4 in the field of their impact on users’ minds (Heith, 2006; Gee, 2007; Norgrove, 2007; Juul, 2009). Many of these studies ascertained the potential hazard regarding such kind of amusement. It has been postulated that computer games may provoke aggression and addiction, inspire sexism, support stereotypes, and cause many other harmful effects (Egenfeld-Nielsen and Smith, 2003). In the past two to three years, games have also been considered as a powerful toolset that ‘does memory work’ and could be used as strong intruments of the soft power projection. In other words, there is a concern that computer games may somehow influence our interpretations of the past and present events and thus affect so-called collective memory (Cooke and Hubbell, 2015).

Many memory scholars emphasize that in 20th and 21st centuries it is media that plays the key role in the process of collective memory shaping (Kliger-Vilenchik et al., 2014). These allegations actually have some basis: media currently not only contributes to the dissemination of scientific knowledge about history or the replicas of artistic images and personal historical experience, but also creates and transmits myths as well as ideological and propaganda clichés. Video games as a new media combine the features of art and media and posses the “presence effect” and “effect of coding” (Mazur, 2013). These effects are achieved by creation of visible picture with the usage of expressive means, which allows the gamer to feel like a participant in the events described. Games are an integral part of modern culture, along with cinema and literature. In addition, games have a unique feature, which is deprived in all other forms of media – they have a high degree of subjective immersion. Unlike the book, where the reader cannot influence the character in narrative, the gamer not only can, s/he has to manage and manipulate the character, otherwise the game will not just happen. Whereas the reader in a novel just passivelly follows the story, the gamer controls and directs it (or at least believes s/he does). Such albeit minimum involvement in events management multiplies the effect of identification. This peculiarity makes computer games extremely effective tool of manipulation and opinion formation.

The phenomenon of collective memory itself is a complex and ambiguously understood area of social consciousness (Tamm, 2013). In present paper, collective memory is considered as a set of historical messages, myths, and reflections on the past that is shared by the members of different social groups, passes on from generation to generation, has a subjective nature and is realized though symbolic objects (Rogozhina, 2015). Subjectivity of collective memory is of crucial importance for researchers of this phenomenon within the virtual space since collective memory does not focus on detailed and impartial reproduction of the past but rather constructs this past. Therefore, it could be affected by a variety of discources and memory cultures.

Some modern researchers pay special attention to the fact that “there are fewer and fewer historians interested in reconstructing, interpreting and giving meaning to historic events; so-called “memory studies” that look at how historic events are remembered, presented and used later on are becoming more popular” (Piirimäe, 2015). Put differently, the purpose of memory studies is to investigate the variety interpretations of the same historical facts held by different social groups. Video games in their turn are one of the new ways to interpret these events and therefore have to be investigated.

Research problem and research question

As mentioned above, modern social science cannot provide complete and reliable data concerning potential effects of computer games on gamers’ consiousness. This question has been a subject of considerable debates for several decades; and still there is no clear and unambiguous answer. Some studies state that games indeed may provoke some aggression and addiction, inspire stereotypisation, rasim and sexism (Anderson and Bushman, 2001; Haagsima, 2008; Peck et al., 2011; Karapetsas et al., 2014). However, despite the fact that these findings have been obtained during research, they are often contested by other researchers’ groups who investigated positive consequences of video game play such as positive effects of prosocial games on helping and positive impact of action games on visual-spartial skill (Green and Bavelier, 2007; Greitemeyer and Osswald, 2010). In many respects, the lack of strong methodological basis and methodological inaccuracy become the cause of such disputes (Egenfeldt-Nielsen and Smith, 2003).

In addition, although nowadays game studies become increasingly popular and even ‘mainstream’, one should note that these ‘present-day’ research ‘deal with potential effects of video games to a very limited extend’ (Egenfeldt-Nielsen and Smith, 2003, p. 4), concentrating primarly on games’ negative effects (Anderson and Bushman, 2001; Sørensen and Jessen, 2002). Since 2002, there have been published several research dealing with potential positive effect of video games (such as strategic and critical thinking) (Durkin and Barber, 2002; Bavelir and Green, 2003; Kocurek, 2012). Nevetheless, there is still a gap in scientific knowledge about the possible impact of computer games on the formation of collective memory. Meanwhile, at present when society experiencing an accelerating transfer of historical knowledge and its interpretation (Kansteiner 2002), this issue is more of current interest than ever. Thus, the chosen research topic seems relevant both from the academic and practical perspectives.
The aim of the research

The main purpose of present study is to reveal the role of video games in the formation of collective memory.

The key research question, thereby, is formulated as following: “Do video games possess a role in the process of collective memory formation”?
The research object and subject

The object of study are video games as symbolic objects through which intersubjective representations of the past are realized.

The research subject is the representation of the past in video games.

Theoretical basis

A theoretical basis for the study of video games as a new form of media and tool of mass communication has been shaped by the concept of ludus and paidea introduced by G. Frasca (Frasca 2003) and developed by G. Voorhees (Voorhees, 2012). Besides, since the aim of given paper is to investigate the possible effect of video games on collective memory formation, classical theories of collective memory such as theory of individual and collective memory introdused by M. Halbwachs (Halbwachs, 1992), P. Nora’s concept of mnemonic places (Nora, 1996), and M. Foucault’s concept of memory and counter-memory (Foucault, 1977) were used as a basic theoretical frame.

The methods of research

During the study conduction, two main methods of data gathering were used:

  • Discource analysis (official webpages and forums of games Company of Heroes 2 and Medal of Honor series; media sources for the period from 2011 to 2015);

  • Semi-structured interviews (with experts, game developers and gamers).

In general, fifteen interviews have been conducted in 2015/2016. There were two experts (culturologist and historian), three game developers working on ‘historical games’, and ten gamers (both professional and non-professional from the West (four) and East (six) Europe).

The structure of the MA thesis paper

The MA thesis paper consists of introduction, two chapters, conclusion, list of sources and appendixes. The introduction gives an overview of the research design. The first chapter contains the presentation of theoretical framework that could be applied for current research purposes. The second chapter analyzes games as new media and investigates historical reconstruction and narratives within the game space. The thrird chapter concentrates on the results of empirical research.

The conclusion presents the summary of MA paper with particular focus on general findings of the study that has been conducted. Finally, the list of sources and the appendixes provide additional information about the sources used in the research and presents specific data for the empirical analysis, including interview guides and transcripts’ examples.

Chapter 1. Theoretical foundations for study of video games as a source of collective memory formation
Choosing computer games as an object of the study within memory studies creates several problems for the researcher. One of them is the lack of conceptual framework for investigation of games as a source – or mean – of collective memory5 formation. The main reason is that computer games are a relatively new media form which appeared on the market about 40 years ago6, but whose current advancements as influencers to imagination and as soft power tool have only taken shape in-terms of network connectivity only in the past 10 years, with advancement in network bandwidth and evolution of new technological interfaces. In addition, the ‘sample set’ of this data is very small and limited to a very particular set of group of people and mindsets. Thus, any generalization of ‘statements’ is baseless and provides a wider room for criticism and counter-argument. Therefore, an appropriate theoretical concept for their study has not yet been developed and verified. Meanwile, game studies per se have become increasingly popular and even ‘mainstream’ today. This contradiction results in controversial and ambiguous findings of games research. For instance, it is thus easy to find a number of articles in top scientific journals reporting that games cause aggressive behavior, and it is even easier to get papers stating completely the opposite argument (a simple search in the Google Scholar database verifies this). What is of crucial importance, however, is that many people involved in debates concerning potential negative or positive effects of computer games base their arguments on articles in popular science publications, or publicatons that are part of public discource rather than scientific. A good example of mixing and framing opposite positions and presenting it to public is the Danish daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende. One of its articles published back in 2003 states the following:
“Contrary to what has previously been believed, children’s imaginations are destroyed by popular video games. However, international research shows that they adopt a far more strategic way of thinking” (Carstensen and Vestergård, 2003).
Commonly, public that receives such message from the media reffering to authority tends to unconditionally believe it. Thus, in addition to hardly replicatable and poorly respectable real studies we also have media as an actor that juggles different positions depending on its goal (sometimes explicitly abusing it) and creates additional difficulties for the phenomenon under study.

In academic field, the shift and the transition from the real society to the virual one has been already investigated by J. Baudrillard at the end of 1970s (Baudrillard, 1994). M. Casstels also can be considered as a pioneer of this field of social science due to his concept of the network society (Casstels, 1996). However, first attempts to create modern sociological models based on the concept of virtuality were made only in the end of 1990s (noteworthy, all they refer to the same year – Bühl, 1997; Becker and Paetau, 1997; Ivanov, 1997). Nevertheless, despite their substantial relevance for contemporary science, all these theories have one fundamental flaw – they are overly general, so they seem to be nonapplicable for the study of video games within present paper.

The problem can be solved by combining and using of middle-range theories. In particular, theoretical basis for the study of video games as a new form of media and tool of mass communication can be formed by the concept of ludus and paida that has been introduced by G. Frasca (Frasca 2003) and developed by G. Voorhees (Voorhees, 2012). Besides, since the aim of given paper is to investigate the possible effect of video games on collective memory formation, some theories of collective memory can be used as well. Among them first of all we should mention the theory of individual and collective memory introdused by M. Halbwachs (Halbwachs, 1992), P. Nora’s concept of mnemonic places (Nora, 1996), and M. Foucault’s concept of memory and counter-memory (Foucault, 1977).
At first sight, it may appear that three concepts of collective memory listed above do not fit each other as in many respects opposite schools. However, it is this motley mix that allows us to consider the game as ‘doing memory work’ (Cooke and Hubbell, 2015).
The aim of given chapter is to present preconditions for collective memory studies, conduct a brief comparison of several theoretical approaches to this phenomenon, which are relevant for contemporary social science, and draw basic conclusions that allow to analyze games as the agents of collective memory.

1.1. Collective memory: A definition and key concepts
Our generation is witnessing the acceleration of civilization development in all its manifestations, including informational one. This fact has not been questioned by any of the modern researcher (Lykova, 2007). It is impotant, however, to identify the structural changes of socio-cultural experience provoked by this devepoment.
Firstly, it causes an unprecendented growth of so-called ‘relicts of civilization’, i.e. obsoleted forms of experience, images of the world, norms and patterns of behaviour, which, in its turn, leads to the growth of irrelevant past that is not suitable for modern use. This is not the process lasts for generations anymore but rather loss of past experience structures, which [loss] is acutely perceived by contemporaries. To put it simplier, people’s reactions on the acceleration of progress become more conservative while people are trying to root and slow down in order to catch the relationships between past and modernity (Lykova, 2007).
Secondly, a constantly growing rate of progress causes structural changes in relation to the future. Expansion of technologial, information, and social activity leads to the fact that the large space of the future become the subjects of ideological, political, and business design. At the same time, there is less confidence that future actions of people will be determined and estimated in accordance with today’s standards and assessments (Lykova, 2007). Information oversaturation of modern society today demands a rigorous selection of what will be transferred to the future. Inability of many social institutions and individuals to keep and transmit such large amount of information forces them to decide today what their descendants will know about them in the future. The need for preserving the greatest possible amount of this social information is reflected in the compensatory mechanisms of preferences, personalization, and specialization, which increased the importance of ‘unedited’ individual, local, marginal, and other histories (Lykova, 2007).
Thirdly, the need for selection of facts, events, and institutions having a high resistance to obsolscence follows from the previous. Preserving some ‘imperishable’ elements is a basic need of social consciousness which is reflecled in design of socio-cultural ‘places of memory’ (Halbwachs, 1992; Nora, 1996).
The problem of constructing past in order to explain or change the present and thereby influence the future remains of crucial importance and is solved through the development of relaively new concepts such as social and collective memory. Introduced in the early 20th century, the concept of collective memory updates in the 1980s due to formation and operation of the new modern society and new role of knowledge in this process.

Nowadays, memory has become a subject of the broad interest in humanities and social science. The ambiguity of social memory brings together a variety of disciplines (sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, and even media and literary studies) and manifests itself in various terms. There are social memory, collective memory, cultural memory, individual memory, etc. All of them are subjects of a relatively new discipline called ‘memory studies’. A ‘memory boom’, that began in the end of 1970s as a result of rethinking the experience of the WWII and further decades, has been reflected in the significant number of papers and studies focusing on the process of social construction of memory and the relationships between memory, history and historical science.

Memory is an indispensable attribute of human culture. Memory – both individual and collective – is a mandatory condition for existence and identity of any society and any individual. Mechanisms of memory formation thus, on the one hand, always indicate the features of a particular socio-cultural system. On the other hand, in many respects they determine the ways of being as well as the ways of thinking for people constituting those systems.

The present paper concentrates on collective memory as an opportunity to construct diverse representations of the past, so it focuses on the role that is played by different narratives and rituals designed to bring new generations the memory about outstanding events of the past. The attention is drawn to the issue of what people belonging to the same or different societies remember about past, how they interpret it, how the shared understanding of the events of this past is shaped, and finally, how it changes through the time. Thus, given paper consider the level of historical knowledge which M. Halbwachs calls a collective memory (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 38).

According to Halbwachs (1992), each social group creates its own memory about the past – memory that emphasizes features of this particular group and distinguishes it from others. Recovered in social consciousness, these images of the past allow this group to present its history, its origin and evolution (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 86). Despite the fact that collective memory is beared by individuals, it is much wider than their personal autobiographical memory due to its transfer mechanism: collective memory is based on knowledge passing from one generation to another (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 44-49).

Halbwachs’s great contribution to the collective memory studies expresses, firstly, in the formation of the theoretical foundations of the study of this phenomenon, and secondly, in the introduction of the term ‘collective memory’ into circulation. He shifts the scientific focus from ‘past’ and ‘history’ to ‘memory’ and investigates the nature and constitution of memories, creating a new scientific direction called ‘memory studies’. Moreover, Halbwachs does not just define collective memory – he makes a clear distinction between it and other forms of memory (such as individual autobiographical memory and historical consciousness) and emphasizes the importance of social context, social frameworks (cadres sociaux) for this phenomenon understanding (Zerubavel, 2011). Moreover, he contrasts memory and history as two opposing ways of representation of the past. History is a result of rigorous study of historical sources and not susceptible to the pressure of social environment, whereas collective memory is an integral part of social life and, therefore, transforms in response to changing needs of society (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 78-87). Collective memory and historical science are seen as two different stages in the process of human’s cognition of the past. History as a science and the main mode of cognition occurs, when traditions weaken and social memory fades (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 78-83)7.

Some of Halbwachs’ foundational ideas were taken from E. Durkheim and H. Bergson, his scholarly predecessors – for a long time, Halbwachs’ writings were considered as a kind of ‘appendix’ of the Durkheim’s sociology (Romanovskaya, 2010, p. 39). For instance, from Durkheim’s ethnographic work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Halbwachs borrows and reinterprets the concept of collective effervescence. From Bergsons, in its turn, Habwachs adopts ideas about the inner subjective time and two types of memory – habitual, or action-oriented memory, and memory that expresses a disinterest in present life (Romanovskaya, 2010, p. 43).

Developing ideas of Durkheim, Halbwachs identifies memory as a connecting element that held together brief periods of collective effervescence. Considering memory as a social construct (which is incidentally depend primarily upon language), social scientist describes the process of changing the meanings of memory through the time. Halbwachs demonstrates the collective ability of people to create a paradigm through the continual reconstruction of memories (Romanovskaya, 2010, p. 41).

With regard to collective memory, it is collective to the extend in which it fits into historical consciousness of the group, and social to the extend in which it fits into historical consciousness of the society. Collective memory substantively connected with reflected experience of social groups (generations, ethnicities, those in power, etc). There are common values, patterns, stereotypes, behavior types that have been produced by human memory and remain there. Collective memory is a memory about the historical past, or more precisely, its symbolic representation (Romanovskaya, 2010, p. 41). It is not only one of the main channels of experience and information transmission, but also an important component of the identity of individuals, social groups and society as a whole (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 39). Halbwachs is the first who proposes to consider collective memory as a social phenomenon, which is necessary for the survival of society. From this point of view, collective memory is the key to the identity of society. Introducing the concept of memory, Halbwachs proceeds from the assumption that individuals have two types of memory (an echo of Bergson’s ideas), historical (collective) and autobiographical. The first one reaches the social actor only through different types of records (written, drawn, etc.), but can be kept alive through commemorations, festive enactment, and the like (Romanovskaya, 2010, p. 40). Periodic celebrations (e.g. May, 9th in Russia and July, 4th in the USA) thus serve as “focal points in the drama of reenacted citizen participation” (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 243). Autobiographical memory, in its turn, is a memory of events that individual has personally experienced in the past. It may also contribute to reinforcing of the bonds between group members (for instance, in the case with college graduates who create alumni associations where they can reconstruct past shared college experience). Nevertheless, Halbwachs notes, such kind of memory tends to fade with time unless it is periodically reinforced through contact with person who has the same or similar experience. In the absence of contact during long period of time memory may be lost. In any event, he further concludes, autobiographical memory is always rooted in other people, i.e. social groups. However, when it comes to historical memory, the person does not remember events directly. This kind of memory can be stimulated only in indirect ways through reading, listening, watching, or in commemoration and festive occasions when people gather together to “remember the deeds and accomplishments of long-departed members of the group” (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 244). In this case, the past is stored and interpreted by social institutions rather then by social groups.
As mentioned above, Halbwachs refers to the “memory – history” opposition and emphasizes the distinction between the types of the past which they recover. Memory seeks similarities between past and present, whilst history states for differences. History is critical towards the past. It rejects emotions which are associated with and affected by memory. Events and images that memory reconstitutes are fragile and vague, but historical evidences are reliable. Collective memory does not coincide with history, because the former creates the connection between the past and the present, while the latter breaks this connection (Romanovskaya, 2010, p. 42).
Halbwachs states that collective memory has two features that allow opposing it to the history. Firstly, collective memory has no strict division into periods inherent in history. Secondly, unlike history that tends to universality and admits the existence of a single unified history of the world, there are several options for collective memory at the same time even within one country (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 70). This is determined by the simultaneous existence of several social groups that may be connected with the same individual. Again, Halbwachs stresses that collective memory is a social construct, and, hence, every collective memory depends upon specific groups that are delineated by space and time. In other words, the group constructs the memory and individuals “do the work of remembering” (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 71).

However, such opposition is not entirely justified. First of all, no historical research (and, as a consequence, history itself) cannot claim to be exhaustive. It is inevitably limited by the author’s views, the ways of selection and organization of information, and the genre of historical narrative (White, 1987). Historians may aspire to be impartial and objective, but they are an integral part of their society, so as its members they often are subjecs of the mainstream view of the past. They may not only share these premises which are the basis of collective memory, but also promote them through their work (Zerubavel, 2011).

At the same time, despite its dynamic nature, collective memory could not be reduced to completely random set of representations of the past and seen as absolutely independent in relation to historical science. Halbwachs (1992) states that collective memory is shaped by present issues and understandings (italics supplied). Groups select different memories to explain current issues and concerns. In order to explain the present, leaders of the group reconstruct the past, using rationalization to choose which events are remembered, and which are eliminated, and to rearrange events to conform to the social narrative. Therefore, changings in our knowledge of the past are connected with the changings in organizational needs and the transformations of the structure of society (Halbwachs, 1992, p. 235). However, these alligations are criticized by many memory scholars. According to Schwartz (1982), Halbwachs is too focused on the present and undermines the very concept of the continuity of the history of mankind, denying the objectivity of history and emphasizing the collective memory capacity to adaptation. ‘Given the constraints of a recorded history, the past cannot be literally constructed; it can only be selectively exploited’, comments Halbwachs’ views Schwartz (1982, p. 396). Like a pendulum, collective memory is in perpetual motion from historical records to contemporary social and political problems, from modernity back to the evidence of the past in trying to integrate them. Referring to historical sources, collective memory constantly changes its interpretation of events, selectively emphasizes some episodes and shades others, adds new touches. Memory and history thus do not exist independently and do not develop in opposite directions. They are in a constant struggle, and withal inevitable depend on each other (Zerubavel, 2011).

In modern society, the role of professional historians in shaping of prevailing in public consciousness images of the past goes to teachers, writers, journalists and other media actors. The heritage of 20th century – a wide range of formal and informal means, aimed to perpetuate the history of a given society, maintains collective memory’s vitality. Celebrations, festivals, monuments and memorials, songs, theatrical performances, books, movies, and games – all these means remining of glorious past compete with interpretations of historian experts.

Although Halbwachs (1992) emphasizes the flexibility and changeability of collective memory, he does not touch the issue of its transformation in his works. In this context, the concept of commemoration becomes central to understanding of memory changes. Commemoration within the given paper is understood as the entire set of the means and ways which serve for consolidation, preservation, and transfer of memory about the past in society (Zerubavel, 2011). Collective memory takes shape due to various forms of commemoration such as anniversary celebrations, reading stories, participating in memorial services and historical reconstructions, religious observance, etc. Through these rituals, a group forms representation of certain events of the past, produces their unity, select a particual verbal form for their articulation (see Durkheim, 1965). Participation in these rituals allows people not only refresh and confirm their memories of the past, but to modify, ‘to rememory’ them (see Morrison, 1987). At the level of individual communities, each act of commemoration gives the opportunity to introduct new interpretations of the past, although repetition of commemorative rituals itself maintains a sense of continuous memory in society.

The concept of commemorative events is directly related to the concept of mnemonic places, or places of memory (les lieux de mémoire) (Nora, 1996). Mnemonic places reinforces stereotypes of individuals’ consciousness and awakes specific memories of the past. Visiting such places and observing of or participating in certain rituals associated with them could be one of the most effective ways to shape collective memory, especially for young generation (Nora, 1996).

The emergence of mnemonic plases happens largely due to spontaneous and dynamic nature of collective memory that ‘remains in permanent evolition, open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, unconscious of its successife deformations, vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation, susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived’ (Nora, 1989, p. 8). Memory places appear as a response to the dissapearance of natural memory: people face the need to preserve relics, documents, images, speeches and other material objects that are evidence of past events. Those place, however, are not places in a narrow, geographical sense. De facto, they have three separate meanings such as material, symboliс, and functional ones. Nora (1989, p. 12) defines mnemonic places as ‘fundamentally remains, the ultimate embodiments of a memorial consciousness that has barely survived in a historical age that calls out for memory because it has abandoned it’. In outline, they could be defined as a mental point of intersection and concentration of collective memory. The main function of mnemonic places, therefore, is to preserve collective memory. Places of memory can be represented by people, events, artificial and natural objects, buildings, traditions, legends and locations surrounded by distinct symbolic aura. It is important to understand that mnemonic places are not mnemonic unless our imagination and consciousness give a special mnemonic meaning to it. For instance, purely functional things such as school history textbook or veterans association become mnemonic solely on the basis of being an object of the ritual. Another illusrtation, a minute of silence that is an extreme example of symbolic meaning, is a material separation of time unity (Nora, 1996). These examples demonstrate that three aspects of mnemonic spaces are always coexisting complementing each other.

In many respects, memory places are also related to the fragmentary and tentative nature of memory images. Those images do not posses a coherent or associated value as long as individuals or groups do not project them into specific circumstances. Those circumstances, in their turn, are given to these groups by mnemonic places (Hutton, 1993).

Memory places are maintained through commemorative rituals, and this brings us back to the commemoration itself. Commemoration is a deliberate attempt to stop, or at least conceal the process of gradual change of tradition (Hutton, 1993). Commemorative mnemonic places enhance representations of the past. Thanks to this peculiarity, commemoration turns out to be politically significant. This kind of activity multiplies the power of memory places and provide the opportunity to strengthen blurring with time stereotypes of consciousness and make them specific imagery more comprehensible (Hutton, 1993).

Most people form the picture of days that are gone primarily under the influence of different commemoration forms. Moreover, as children are engaged in collective memory before their acquaintance with science of history, the former could have more significant impact on their perception of history. Traditionally, there are two actors (family and school) that play an important role in familiriazing a child with national traditions. Indeed, knowledge from an early childhood imprints the images and stories embodying collective memory of the particular community (Zerubavel, 2011). However, nowadays when children almost from their infancy have an access to computers and Internet, one should consider such actor as media in its broad sense (and games as its subspacies).

Each commemoration act reproduces a particular commemorative narrative – a story about different events that explains the reasons of commemoration and containts a moral lesson for the society members. Yet creating such narratives collective memory relies on historical records, the latters are used creatively and selectively. As a result, such commemorative narrative becomes more like historical writings rather than historical chronicles since it is exposed to a certain literary adaptation (narration) and from simple list of facts turns into coherent story (White, 1987).

As every commemoration act recreates only one segment of the past, collective memory acquires fragmented nature. However, takin together these actions compose a kind of general narrative structure – master commemorative narrative8, or narrative scheme that arranges and systematizes collective memory (Zerubavel, 2011).

A power of collective memory, therefore, is not in a scrupulous, systematic or extremely accurate reconstruction of the past; it is in creation of simple and bright images that help to express and reinforce a certain ideological stance (Zerubavel, 2011). The inclination of collective memory to dichotomize the past and portray it in monochrome colors leads to increase of contrast between different historical periods and promotes unambiguous attitude towards particular stage of the society development. Thus, some stages are presented in collective memory as significant steps towards society evolution whilst the others are seen as the era of decline. As a rule, pioneers’ epochs, a seizure of foreign lands, victorious wars or wars for independens have a positive evaluation in the history of nation. On the contrary, times when the nation was a part of empire or under the yoke have a negative connotation as eras that did not let the nation realize itself as an independent political entity (Zerubavel, 2011).

Bringing the concepts of the past to a certain system through the establishment of general narrative structure also reveals so-called commemorative density of particular historical periods (what Lévi-Strauss (1970, p. 259) calls ‘the pressure of history’). Under commemorative density I follow Zerubavel (2011) and understand the value that society ascribes to the various segments of its past. While some periods occupy a privileged position in public consciousness, others may attract a little attention or be completely forgotten. Commemorative density is thereby higher for those eras and events that have a crutial importance for historical consciousness of a certain group and that are a subject of considerable efforts aimed at preserving memory. The lowest commemorative density characterizes those periods which receive almost no attention in the general narrative structure. Dates and events that are supressed and shadowed by collective memory become objects of collective amnesia. Whereas collective memory pays its attention to the most valuable aspects of the past, all other aspects (considered non-essential or potentially hazardous for narrative progress and transfer of the basic image of the past) are inevitably discarded (Zerubavel, 2011).

High commemorative density not only emphasizes historical significance of particular events, but also distinguishes them from a long series of episodes by giving them a special status of symbolic texts which serve as a key to understanding of history of the society. Indeed, one milestone event suits better for the purposes of rutialized memories than the gradual transition from one state to another9. Within the general narrative structure these events appear as ‘turning points’ that changed the course of the historical development of the past.

This is the way that historical event within the framework of collective memory may turn into political myth (Tudor, 1972, p. 137 – 140). This myth as a magnifying glass lets community members see the present and imagine future. Those turning points have a special symbolic meaning. For these reason, they are extremely controversial and hardly can be unambiguous interpreted. This ambiguity stems from the boundary position of tirning points between two epochs (as any rites of passage, they simultaneously represent departure from the past and movement towards the future) (Van Gepper, 1960). Such ‘between state’ of turning points gives them, on the one hand, the mentioned above ambiguity and duality; on the other hand, it contributes to their transformation into political myth that can be used in struggle of different forces (Zerubavel, 2011).

Boundary position of turning points gives space to a variety of interpretations. It smooths conflicts between different interpretations, and thus allows historical events to preserve their sacred meaning and to hold their places in the general narrative structure. From time to time, however, the fragile coexistance of contradictory interpretations is broken, and myth cannot longer restrain the internal conflict between them. In such moments, an open struggle for the past starts. Competing social groups clash for the opportunity to interpret historical events from the most favourable for them perspectives. The conflict between dominant and alternative social views on historical events naturally provokes profound changes in the collective memory of the society.

An alternative narrative model that contradicts the general narrative structure and exists despite the superiority of the latter we should define as counter-memory. Using a term ‘counter-memory’, I follow M. Foucault’s ideas about the oppositional nature of memory (Foucault, 1977). I noted earlier in present chapter that one of the modern historiographical approaches to the problem of memory is reducing memory to the representation of the past: moments of reminiscence are higlighted while repetitions and patterns of thinking are ignored. I also provide some theoretical foundation of this position called ‘denial of tradition’ developed by Halbwachs (1992), and now it makes sense to present Foucault’s views on this issue.

Foucault denies the tradition as the basis of historical research since historians referring to tradition associate it thereby with individual, separate concept of the past. Meanwhile, history should study commemorative forms, and its main interest should lie in the field of politics dealing with memory. Historians do not tend to objective knowledge, they serve power and authorities, construct history within contemporary discourses. Tradition thus uses collective memory in the interests of the present. As a result, memory becomes a subject of political manipulation (Foucault, 1977). For this reason, we have to contrast collective memory as a ‘set of knowledge and ideas of society about the past’ (Foucault, 1977, p. 144) to counter-memory as ‘a practice of memory formation that is social and political, one that runs counter to the official histories of governments, mainstream mass media, and the society of the spectacle’ (Foucault, 1977, p. 145). This distinction is of special importance for present study for two reasons.

Firstly, counter memory, as it follows from its name, is an oppositional memory, an antagonist of prevailing collective memory that has ‘subversive potential’. Where the general narrative structure tends to eradicate alternatives interpretation of the past, the counter-memory denies the verity of generally accepted ideas of the past and offers ‘more accurate and truthful’ version of events. Besides, counter-memory defies collective memory not only in symbolic sense, but in political one as well. The general narrative construction represents the image of the past that has been created by the political elite, it serves its interests and contributes to its problems solving. Counter-memory challenges this hegemony offering narrative that differs from the general one and reflects views of supressed groups. At the same time, because of the disparity of resourses that are avaliable for those in power and those under pressure, counter-memory experiences a constant threat of marginalization and destruction by officials (Heineman, 2014). Memory, therefore, becomes a field of struggle between different political forces: using various commemorative events anf other activities aimed at preserving the memory of the past, rival groups present their interpretations of history in order to gain control over the political system or to justify their separatists position.

Secondly, considering mismatches between two memory discourses and related memories, one may trace ‘how the past functions as a mediator of meaning’ (Schwartz, 2000, p. 17) for various contexts and different societies. Collective memory “embodies a template that organizes and animates behavior and a frame within which people locate and find meaning for their present experience” (Schwartz, 2000, p. 18). When reasoning about mnemonic places, I have briefly touched on this issue.

Discussing memory, one shoud note that Foucault is confident in his belief concerning the fragmentarity of this phenomenon. However, this approach could be found too limited (Zerubavel, 2011). Counter-memory is not neccessarily bounded by one particular event. It can become an integral part of the entire set of ideas about the past that odds with the prevailing views. Even when counter-memory defies established interpretations of particular historical events, it inspires some concern because it affects representations of many other events and thus questions the general narrative structure that expresses collective memory about the past (Zerubavel, 2011).

Indeed, the mentioned above ‘subversive potential’ of collective memory is well recognized by political regimes that forbid various minorities group to perform certain rituals in order to supress or destruct the collective memory of the latters (a good example could be efforts of Bulgarian authorities aimed at suppression of turkish, gipsy and muslim folklore as ‘foreign’ in the process of creating ‘purely Bulgarian’ identity – see Silverman, 1989). Even in democratic societies, contradictions between collective memory and counter-memory can easily provoke fierce conflicts over how to present the past and and what representations of the past are closer to reality. One should note, however, that boundaries between official and counter-memory are often blurred. There is a “complex interaction between vernacular [counter] and official memory, and narrow definitions of the two groups do not allow for rich understanding of the processes involved with this interaction” (Rowe, 2012, p. 119). The pressure of counter-memory thus may contribute to the maintenance and vitality of collective memory since the presence of the former stimulates the response from the latter. Collective memory may successfully crush oppositional memory or keep it under control; nonetheless, it may happen that counter-memory will receive a push to developlment, and with the growth of popularity counter-memory will lose its oppositional status and transform into collective memory, as it happened during the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution. Thereby, despite many researchers tend to accentuate disagreements and contradictions between official and vernacular memory, they inform, inflect, deflect and even support each other during tough times (Heineman, 2014).

Summarizing all mentioned above, one should emphasize again the difference between collective memory and historical consciousness. Unlike the consciousness, collective memory is actualized by realities of present and future and has a highly selective nature. Despite some incompletnesses, however, it yet has a striking feature to hold the most important historical events in minds, turning historical knowledge into various forms of ideological reception of the past experience and fixing it in collective unconscious (myths, legends, and stories). Finally, collective memory has one more peculiarity which is called hyperbole. It exaggregates certain moments (curiously, mostly recent) and therefore cannot claim on consistent and systematic reflection of the past. Such historical asymmetry, rejected by historians for its ‘unscientific nature’, is an extremely interesting subject for sociologists as it indicates a certain social request, deliberate or unperceived (Lykova, 2007).

Collective memory as symbolic representation of the past and some ideal reality combines different types of knowledge, not only scientific (incl. historical) but religious, ideological, cultural and everyday knowledge as well. Generally, history and historical science are seen as basis for collective memory, but in fact, the mechanism of their interaction is much more complex. First and foremost, ‘professional historical knowledge’ is a reflection of historical pattern of politicaly dominant groups. That is why many scholars define this history as ‘official memory’ (Hutton, 1993, p. 48). However, natural multiplicity of memory forms cannot be limited to only one version of the past; therefore, even in totalitarian societies there are ‘secret’ histories and counter-memory (Foucault, 1977). Thus, multiple representation and interpretation as well as conflict between them are universal phenomenon. The problem here lies in the finding of certain compromise that will satisfy both ideologically dominant group and representatives of other parties (Lykova, 2007).

One of the mechanisms of reconciliation with the past is the expansion of memory boundaries, inter alia through using of alternative information about it. Generally, this process is a result of disappearance of living witnesses and participants of historical events. As a result, although history and historical knowledge remain to be a base for collective memory, other sources and agents of memory come to the fore (Lykova, 2007). There are everyday knowledge (from the family, for example), art (mostly popular), religion, educational and political institutions, and media. For greater clarity, key forming agents and collective memory properties are presented in table below:

Table 1


Memory feature




An important element of social integration


A main channel of individual’s position on relevant events formation

Significant others

An important element of personal identity


Unified within a separate state framework

Higher education and academic institutions

Able to intervent collective memory




Legitimizes political and economic culture

Government structures

Shapes national historical consciousness

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