The Obituary as Collective Memory (Routledge Advances in Sociology)

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But obituaries are also about individuals, whose lives and identities they record—and for many people, they represent a unique instance in which their life story is told by a third party. In this article, I consider how collective memory of major public events is woven into the life stories told in obituaries by comparing recent obituaries of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam War. My findings suggest four interrelated ways that collective memory shapes these narratives: selection of defining life experiences, selection and emphasis of specific events and experiences, use of historical detail, and provision of cultural scripts.

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By influencing these components of the life stories told in obituaries, collective memory both occupies the narratives of individual veterans and maintains itself over time. Research off-campus without worrying about access issues. Find out about Lean Library here. Skip to main content. Memory Studies. Article Menu. Download PDF. Cite Citation Tools. How to cite this article If you have the appropriate software installed, you can download article citation data to the citation manager of your choice.

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Institutional Access does not have access to this content. Open Athens. Purchase Content 24 hours online access to download content. Subscribe to this journal. Recommend to your library. Rent with DeepDyve. Rent Article. Your Access Options. Forgotten your password? Collective Memory 2. The Historical Sociology of Death 3. The Sports Obituaries, Bridget Fowler is a Professor at the University of Glasgow, specialising in the sociology of culture, Marxist-feminism and social theory. Learn more…. Routledge eBooks are available through VitalSource. Most VitalSource eBooks are available in a reflowable EPUB format which allows you to resize text to suit you and enables other accessibility features.

Where the content of the eBook requires a specific layout, or contains maths or other special characters, the eBook will be available in PDF PBK format, which cannot be reflowed. It is thus unlikely to be a kind of memory on a par with those acknowledged by the standard taxonomy, which correspond to specific brain systems. Existing accounts of autobiographical memory are discussed in section 7 below.

Psychologists have studied hundreds of different kinds of memory in addition to those described above. Many of these are defined in terms of specific laboratory tasks and are unlikely to qualify as natural kinds Tulving , kinds that carve nature—in this case, the mind—at its joints. But even if only the kinds acknowledged by the standard taxonomy are considered, it is not obvious whether any particular kind of memory, never mind memory as a whole, is a natural kind.


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The obvious starting point here is the view that memory is indeed a natural kind. Michaelian b has, however, suggested that memory is not a natural kind, arguing that, because only declarative memory involves the encoding, storage, and retrieval of content, declarative and nondeclarative memory are sharply distinct from each other. This is consistent with the view that declarative memory is a natural kind, but Klein has rejected even the latter view, claiming that, because episodic memory necessarily involves a particular phenomenology, episodic memory and semantic memory are sharply distinct.

If this suggestion is right, then declarative memory may after all be natural kind. But even if declarative memory turns out not to be a natural kind, episodic memory might still be a natural kind. While there is some work on the question of the natural kindhood of episodic memory, the question of the natural kindhood of kinds of memory other than episodic memory remains almost entirely unexplored.

According to systems views, memory consists of multiple independent systems which interact in various ways. According to process views, in contrast, memory is a unitary capacity which is employed in different ways in response to different demands. The once-lively debate between partisans of systems views and partisans of process views has now largely died down.

1. The Metaphysics of Memory: An Overview

It has not, however, been clearly resolved in favour of either camp, and progress towards resolving it might be made by bringing the available evidence into contact with detailed theories of natural kinds. As noted above, the kind of memory on which most recent work has focussed is episodic memory. Episodic memory is, roughly, memory for the events of the personal past, but not just any way of thinking about an event from the personal past amounts to episodically remembering it.

On the one hand, it is possible, as noted above, for a subject to remember an event not only episodically but also semantically. Thus one core problem for a theory of episodic remembering is to distinguish between episodic memory and semantic memory, that is, to provide a criterion for the episodicity of episodic memory. The present section discusses attempts to solve this problem, which has received a great deal of attention in recent years.

On the other hand, it is possible not only to remember an event but also to imagine it. Thus another core problem for a theory of episodic remembering is to distinguish between episodic memory and episodic imagination, that is, to provide a criterion for the mnemicity of episodic memory. Section 4 discusses attempts to solve this problem, which has historically received more attention. Episodic memory was thus distinguished from semantic memory in terms of the kind of first-order content with which it is concerned.

This first-order content-based approach to episodicity is appealingly straightforward, but it fails to acknowledge that semantic memory can also provide information about particular past events. It fails, moreover, to capture what has seemed to many to be the most distinctive feature of episodic memory, namely, its characteristic phenomenology.

In light of these problems, many researchers have abandoned first-order content-based approaches in favour of the second-order content-based and phenomenological approaches discussed below. Some researchers, however, particularly those interested in animal memory, continue to employ first-order content-based approaches. The second-order content-based approach, as we will see, imposes significant conceptual demands on rememberers, demands which animals are unlikely to meet.

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And the phenomenological approach is straightforwardly inapplicable to animal memory, since we lack access to animal phenomenology. The what-where-when criterion of episodicity, in contrast, is experimentally tractable, and research employing it has furnished important insights into the abilities of various nonhuman species to remember past events. These approaches thus distinguish episodic memory from semantic memory in terms of the self-reflexive character of its content.

The Obituary as Collective Memory (Routledge Advances in Sociology S.)

The self-reflexivity criterion of episodicity is intuitively appealing, but it is not without potentially problematic implications. It implies, as noted above, that nonhuman animals as well as young children are incapable of remembering episodically, since only creatures with relatively sophisticated conceptual capacities—including the ability to represent past times as past and to represent the self as an enduring entity—are capable of entertaining the relevant second-order contents. It also implies that there is a major difference between the contents of retrieved memories and the contents of the corresponding original experiences, since it sees memories as including content—namely, their second-order, self-reflexive component—that is not included in experiences.

Phenomenological approaches, which have similar implications, have been popular in recent psychology, with Tulving, inter alia , abandoning the first-order approach in favour of an approach emphasizing the phenomenology of episodic remembering Tulving ; cf. Dalla Barba , Phenomenological approaches have likewise long been popular in philosophy. Hume [] , for example, argued that memory is accompanied by a feeling of strength and liveliness.

Russell associated memory with a feeling of familiarity and a feeling of pastness. And Broad argued, more specifically, that the feeling of pastness is inferred from the feeling of familiarity. In the contemporary literature, Dokic has argued that episodic memory involves an episodic feeling of knowing. The feeling of knowing, as usually understood, refers to the sense that one will be able to retrieve needed information from memory. The concept of an episodic feeling of knowing is thus close to the concept of autonoetic consciousness first proposed by Tulving b.

Autonoesis refers to the consciousness of the self in subjective time—which can be roughly described as a feeling of mentally travelling through time to reexperience an event—that is characteristic of episodic remembering. Klein has made a forceful case for treating autonoeisis as a criterion of episodicity, and the idea that a sense of mentally travelling through time is the distinguishing mark of episodic memory fits well with our first-hand experience of the reexperiential character of remembering.

This idea does, however, raise a number of difficult issues. One such issue concerns the relationship of autonoetic consciousness to other forms of consciousness. Tulving contrasts autonoetic self-knowing consciousness with noetic knowing and anoetic nonknowing consciousness, where noetic consciousness refers to the consciousness of remembering that accompanies semantic memory and anoetic consciousness refers to a basic awareness of ongoing experience.

Another issue concerns the role of autonoesis in forms of mental time travel other than episodic memory. Other researchers have argued that autonoesis is a contingent feature even of episodic memory. This would undermine its status as a criterion of episodicity, but, regardless of whether autonoesis is taken to be a necessary or only a contingent feature of episodic memory, it is not immediately obvious why we should be capable of autonoetic episodic memory—as opposed to mere what-where-when memory—at all.

Indeed, accounting for any form of episodic memory in functional terms has proven to be a difficult challenge, and researchers have proposed a range of past-oriented, future-oriented or counterfactual, and metacognitive accounts. The thought behind such accounts is that it is adaptively beneficial to have access to information about particular past events, as opposed to the recurrent features of events that are reflected in semantic or procedural memory; such information might, for example, enable us to reevaluate general impressions of others formed on the basis of their past behaviour Klein et al.