9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS07 Memory, Culture and Public Discourse

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 New Directions in Memory, Culture, and Public Discour Building I, 1E7

From Memory to History: The Gulbenkian Foundation in Portugal

As Michel de Certeau argues in his classic L'Écriture de l'Histoire (1975;1984), the present is the "true starting point" for the historian. This idea is retaken now about the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (CGF) and (dis)continuities between institutional memory and history. The archeological exercise departed taking account of two facts in the height of the commemorations of 50 years of this major cultural institution in Portugal (and in Europe) in 2005.

First, the CGF controversial decision to end the Gulbenkian Ballet a year before, which aroused a wide criticism about the private legitimacy to banish a "common good". To understand the tension around private/public affairs in this case and the great emotional (and political) impact produced by that decision, we must recall the original and persistent role of the foundation in the Portuguese society. Literally, an hybrid, a private bourgeois sphere acting as "habermasian" creator of our public space in since the 50's. A powerful island or heterotopy (Foucault) dedicated to the "civilizing mission" of the arts and culture; modernity, literacy, development and cosmopolitism that even challenged the dictatorship's conservatism up to 1974, the year of Portuguese democratic revolution.

The other evidence was the lack of an institutional written history, basically done during the commemorations. To understand why the historians "forgot" this major institution, and a so long tacit knowledge about the Foundation and its presence so embedded in our lives, identity and destiny, we need to catch again the past. The trajectory of this immense, ubiquitous, power; a financial and symbolic power per excellence mainly exerted with discretion and by the mode of influence (notably over dependent Academies, artists and intellectuals). This could contribute to have persisted in that state of social memory (more anchored in "stories" than the "history") but, as the paper will point, its institutional conversion into history was owed not only to the commemorations. The changes in the present showed, also, thar "the Gulbenkian" was no longer alone as "our" unique institution - a kind of monopoly in Portugal. It was time, then, to experience a new analytical distance, to go backwards and write the history.