Articulations of Generational Memory within the Post-Communist Context
Sociology Masaryk University Brno, Czech Republic
The paper reflects upon developments in two distinct fields of sociological inquiry which have recently attracted attention of increasing numbers of scholars: collective memory and generational conflict. Drawing from classical and latest inspirations, it attempts to elaborate and present a concept of generational memory. The empirical relevance and analytical value of such concept is demonstrated on the example of social, cultural and political struggles evolving around the interpretation of the communist past within post-communist societies. On the theoretical level, the paper combines historical and phenomenological analysis of the generational aspects of the process of remembering and memorizing the national past.
The historical-phenomenological approach makes it possible to account for the relationship between collective memory and generations in a dynamic way. The paper attempts to trace the generational dynamics in historical transformations of particular collective memories, and evaluate the effects of these transformations on the nature of collective identities and social/cultural divisions. It does not see differences in attitudes to the shared past as a mere reflection of different generational experience and ambitions. It also looks for ways in which the contested images of the past contribute to the articulation of generational cleavages in the post-communist environment.
Pursuing these questions, the concepts of trauma and triumph (Alexander, Giesen) acquire a vital analytical status. The paper shows how historical events understood as traumatic or triumphant recurrently appeal to collective identities, while the appeal mutes over time and its meaning transforms along with generational changes. Within this framework, it also traces shifts in meaning (cultural definitions, symbolic status) of historical events or periods along the transition from a direct experience into a culturally institutionalized, socially reproduced and politically contested collective commemorations. In this process, a refined periodization of recent national history may occur (as it does in the Czech case) which also retrospectively affects a sense of generational location and awareness. And it is in this context that present challenges (like, e.g., the Czech "Lustration Act") affect shared memories of the past (like, e.g., the events of 1968 in Czechoslovakia).