9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS07 Memory, Culture and Public Discourse

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Theoretical Innovations about Collective Memory I Building I, 1E6

Reflections on the construction of the historical memory of nations: is it just useful or also needed?

Regarding nationalist discourses, historian Patrick Geary argued they had transformed history into a "dump of toxic waste", thus reflecting an adverse attitude common to academics. In this view, nationalism is understood as a destructive force, responsible for most of the wars that devastated the World since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Introducing some shades into this attitude, sociology has been showing the existence of low intensity nationalism, one that permeates everyday live. This vision is present in well known concepts such as methodological nationalism (Hermínio Martins) and banal nationalism (Michael Billig). Also in the field of political science has nationalism been reassessed, being revealed its ability to produce the cohesion essential to the maintenance of democratic societies (Margaret Canovan).
As the understanding of the nationalist phenomenon changes, so does the comprehension of the relations between history and the building of national identities. A major tendency aims at understanding the ways in which processes of manipulation and fabrication of the past evolved in nationalist environments. Most of these works, on the trail of Ernest Gellner´s Nation and Nationalism, tend to perceive cultural heritage and history as elements used to construct the belief in the antiquity of each nation, being the objective of such a construction to legitimize the newborn nations. Critical of this vision, Anthony D. Smith emphasized that, other from being useful to legitimize the nation, national history is also the living source to which people turn in search of behavior models, being thus necessary at a much profounder level. In this sense, collective memory is essential to the formation as well as the maintenance of national identities.
The present work reassesses the importance of combining both approaches when dealing, as we do, with historical novels that carry a clearly nationalist message. In our view it is important not only to determine the interests that lie behind a certain representation of the past, but also to clarify the ideas that deeply cross it, having in mind the ability of these to lastingly produce senses, and thus influence the future.