Ministry Projects

Project Number: 179049

Politics of Social Memory and National Identity: Regional and European Context

Project duration: 2011– 2014.

Funding: The Republic of Serbia. Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development
Project Number: 179049
Project Manager: dr Aleksandar Fatić

This project involves multidisciplinary research into memorizing the past –the choice of events that become objects of public attention, evaluative meanings they reflect, the public interest in selecting precisely these events rather than some others and, finally, ongoing and competing politics of social memory decisive for constructing present-day national identity. In addition to multiple ideological, cultural and political legacies, we would also tackle ways of transmitting knowledge, values and images over time in material and cultural production, focusing not just on the standard – written and temporal – mode of memory transmission but also on spatial, digital, visual and acoustic signifiers of memorizing the cultural past, on how it is stored and activated. Through mutual influences of the various politics of memory and identity we will examine the values on which shared identity is built, and identify the strategies, forms and symbols most appropriate for representing national identity in regional and European contexts. Given that the politics of social memory shapes the symbolic and discursive logic of national identity, and that if successfully constructed it contributes to its affirmation, the main subject of this project is theoretical and historical reinterpretation of political and social ideas, knowledge and images relevant for contemporary collective memory, and their contextual and functional reassessment in light of current and future needs of the community.

Key words: social memory, national identity, representation, institutionalization, politics of history.

1. Project Outline

Social memory is a committed view of the past and an effort to render it (politically) meaningful from the perspective of the present. Since the very first definitions of the concept, owed to the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, collective memory has been conceived as a social fact based on a selection of remembrances, and a cognitive skill necessary for establishing social cohesion. It is often argued that the stability of a community depends on the contribution of social memory to collective harmony. The chief task of social memory then becomes to tie the community together from within and to generate overarching values and shared perceptions. The values established by instantiating social memory – through education, state holidays, legal acts, symbols, and similar indicators of a common past – are important for the identity of individuals and the state alike. This interdependence is further illustrated by the idea that the identity of a society may best be gauged from the repertoire of social memory, and especially from what it teaches its children through history textbooks. Apart from this function of social cohesion, if successfully constructed social memory also helps individuals and the state understand the complexity of the world and find their way within it.

Although recollections of the past are numerous and often contradictory, for social memory only those remembrances are relevant that the state singles out, proclaiming its meanings and lessons valuable and unambiguous. Hence, when discussing memory in the context of the nation-state, we are actually talking about its public memory work pursued through articulating and streamlining the images of the past, because they serve to validate the extant social order. All these processes, rife with future interests, also entail active forgetting; this is a never-ending task and a developmental construction in which the state must invest all the time. In a way, social memory is to the state what individual memory is to the person. There is an unmistakable connection between national identity and collective memory of a society; what is more, in the dominant theoretical reception they are seen as two mutually conditioned fields of cultural mobilization. National identity and social memory are both under continuous construction – they concern designing a common future and interpreting a common past, or in other words, establishing fundamental values, goals and interests of the community. Collective memory thus defined becomes the best indicator of the ways a society understands itself, and this comes to be reflected in the modes of its political and symbolic representation. It is intriguing therefore to examine the choice of events that become objects of public attention, evaluative meanings these events reflect, the public interest in selecting precisely these events rather than some others and, finally, the various ongoing and competing politics of social memory decisive for constructing national identity in the present. This complex relation opens up the important and still unresolved issue of “branding” the Serbian nation, its symbolic self-presentation and how to improve the prevalent negative image of Serbia.

Apart from general social reasons, there are also theoretical reasons to examine Serbian politics of memory and national identity in the European, and particularly post-communist context: these relate to the disappearance of ideologies and the corresponding metanarratives, and to the shifting representations of historical past after the Cold War and disintegration of the Yugoslav state. This concerns not only the question of dealing with difficult pasts, but also the scrutiny of those inputs that channel national memory towards particular ethical and political criteria. Since the different politics of social memory shape the symbolic and discursive logic of national identity in a variety of historical contexts, the main subject of this project is theoretical and historical reinterpretation of political and social ideas, knowledge and images relevant for contemporary collective memory, and their contextual reassessment. This narrowest focus of our inquiries, known in the literature as “politics of history”, still does not exclude analyses transcending the current political and social context.

In a broader sense, our research will encompass ways of transmitting knowledge, values and images over time in material and cultural production, focusing not just on the standard – written and temporal – mode of memory transmission but also on spatial, digital, visual and acoustic signifiers of memorizing the cultural past, on how it is maintained in everyday and public life. The impact of information technologies will be singled out for special attention. Our data sources will include classical historical and legal sources, memorial culture, memoirs and autobiographies, but also religious rituals, cinematic, musical and generally artistic production. One current of our research will target the state calendar as the most important symbolic signifier of social memory, together with other indicators such as commemorative manifestations, declarations, charters, history textbooks, biographies and fiction. Such broadly defined sources will facilitate a multidisciplinary approach to the transmission of memories and values over time, making room for historical as well as anthropological, philosophical, sociological, literary theoretical, musicological and political scientific perspectives. This approach promises epistemological benefits and proves to be the most suitable because the structures of longue duree, crucial for sustaining identity, will be our main concern. In this context, in addition to the dominant cultural and political legacies, we will also investigate the status of geo-symbolic terms of ‘West’ and ‘East’ in the Serbian cultural production over time and their effects on understanding and representing present-day national identity.

Key Results Expected

The question of what societies are can hardly be divorced from the question of contents and values they single out from the past and remember as important. A major goal will be to examine the prospects for turning the various politics of memory into matters of public debate, without its results being pre-ordained or derived from an essentialist conception of the nation. To this end, it is of utmost importance to identify ways of integenerational transmission of the past, especially of the experience of Serbia’s shifting state frameworks during the last decades, and how official policy has used these experiences. The fact that the Serbian nation has been exposed to a host of political orders and bears different cultural and political legacies provides an excellent pool for tracing processes of intergenerational transmission of the past, and of the links between political culture and politics of national memorization.

This project is expected to result in: identification of major factors of Serbia’s collective memory; demonstration of a continuous feedback between historical events and their subsequent political and cultural shaping, followed by a reflexive grasp of these relations in a broader theoretical and historical context. Assuming that national memory work – understood as continuous effort towards mastering collective memory through searching for a version of the past viable for the present and for the projected future – is an open-ended process, we will try to identify the basic determinants of collective memories over time, different interpretations of major national events and figures, and attempts made to harmonize them and put them into the service of current and future needs of the community.

Since our academic interest in collective memories converges with the already strong public interest in these issues following the collapse of the Yugoslav state, we shall not only try to answer the questions of what and how Serbia remembers from its past; our aim will also be to analyze these insights within a regional context, and in particular the context of other post-communist countries emerging from the end of the Cold War. The results of these inquiries will be presented at several regional conferences and published in collected volumes.

Given the strong link between collective memory and collective identity, and that the politics of national identity is shaped in the interaction of a number of politics and policies (of history; of language and culture; of religion; concerning ethnic minorities, or gender roles, etc.), a multidisciplinary approach is uniquely tailored for addressing these issues: all these aspects taken together express and articulate politically the historical consciousness and the sum of memories of a society. Quantitatively speaking, we expect 9 books, 3 collective volumes, over 50 articles in international and national journals, and two doctoral dissertations to result from this research.

Significance of the Project

In the current context of a host of Serbia’s open questions, including its relations with the neighbors and its general foreign-political orientation, analyzing the complex relation of the various politics of collective memory and national identity becomes extremely important. Theoretically, the topicality of this project is readily visible, given the intense academic interest in collective memory after the collapse of totalitarian regimes. In the last decade, this area of research has grown immensely in political and social theory and the humanities, especially in relation to studies of post-communism. Since the politics of collective memories and identities are extremely important in international policymaking, comparative studies between countries established on the ruins of a previous common state may enhance the prospects for regional policies of cooperation and association, which is particularly important in the conditions of the not altogether stabilized political circumstances in the European South-East.

Furthermore, in the era of digital communication and new informational technologies, theoretical consideration of memory turns out to be a philosophical, sociological, political scientific and anthropological question of the first order. In the knowledge society, and where control over information is hard to maintain, strategies of managing and presenting information, and of transferring it into the sphere of meaning become priority issues. Therefore urgent research tasks require exploring how memories are created and transmitted via new technologies, and how these technologies may impact the understanding and constructing of the various politics of memory and identity. One more reason that makes the flow of information, important for collective memory and interpretation of the past, within new technologies such a topical question is that nowadays, for the first time in history, anybody can come to create the public culture of memory, replacing the previous monopoly of the official, institutionalized and intentionally designed politics of memory, including commemorations, media coverage, textbooks etc.

By addressing the politics of memory and identity our research is indirectly geared also towards examining the values on which shared identity is built, and especially towards looking for strategies, ways and symbols through which national identity may best be represented. An even more important function of the politics of memory is to generate trust among members of a collectivity. In the everyday agency of national semantics and its transformation into rituals, a successful politics of memory generates trust among members of the nation, which in turn is conducive to creating stable political institutions. Hence an examination of the multiple politics of memory is important for establishing stable democratic institutions, whose importance and social urgency goes without saying.

Finally, studies into the various politics of memory in Serbia, in the region and in the European tradition are not just academic concerns, but rather have a significant political function and application in political decision-making as well. A more successful construction of the politics of memory, and a comparative view of these politics in the region, especially by comparing Serbia with Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, could help defuse mutual ethno-historical stereotypes and spur a critical reconsideration of conceptions of national identity, contributing at once to overcoming the past and to democratic consolidation.

We hope the results of our research could help Serbia and its neighbors define efficient policies of international cooperation within broader integration processes, and encourage mutual respect and protection of ethnic minorities.

Project Number: 43007

Subproject:
Ethics and Environmental Politics: Institutions, Techniques and Norms in the Challenge of Changing the Natural Environment

Project:
Studying  climate change and its influence on environment: impacts, adaptation and mitigation

Project duration: 2011– 2014.

Funding: The Republic of Serbia. Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development

Project Number: 43007

Project Manager: Ratko Kadović, University of Belgrade, Faculty of Forestry

Subproject:

Ethics and Environmental Politics: Institutions, Techniques and Norms in the Challenge of Changing the Natural Environment

Subproject Manager: Petar Bojanić

If you generally do not question that the environment is threatened, there are still controversies about the modalities of the scientific approach directed to solving the present situation. It can be said that the recent approach to this problem in the social sciences is two folded.

The last decades of the twentieth century, politicians and lawyers, supported with expertise of scientists from the fields of natural science, tried to set the standardized rules for human behavior towards natural environment. Legal regulation, however, was the sole guide, and there is evident lack of the ethical view of the relationship of man and nature. The second approach was more comprehensive. It started with the elaboration of the idea of sustainable development, which respects the principles of precaution and breaks with one technocratic forms of governance. Environment in such optics proved to be unavoidable or even a foundational level with a special kind of responsibility required, due to our own prosperity.

Bearing in mind the problem of establishing basic concepts related to environmental ethics, one of the primary tasks in this subproject will be a detailed review of the aforementioned conceptual framework from the perspective of ethics, political philosophy, sociology and anthropology. From the perspective of moral philosophy, it will be explored the intergeneration justice concept implies only taking into account the preferences of future and present people, or the status of universality also. From the perspective of political philosophy the concept of justice as fairness or utilitarian conception will be examined in relation to determining the basic principles of inter-and intra-generational justice.

In this context, possibilities of global justice in particular will be explored, since it is relevant with taking into account the global nature of climate change. From the perspective of social theory, the attention will be directed to the way in which values and norms influence the concept of responsibility towards future generations.

Finally, the anthropological perspective will be examined to what extent variations in cultural values and norms influence the conception of justice that applies within certain communities.

Research will be carried out in the theoretical framework presented will cover a variety of topics:

1. Contemplating the climate change, as the first great challenge of 21. century, in the context of global justice which have the additional role in poverty eradication, including in that way the economic segment, which in turn directly affects the environment;

2. Deontological testing of all key elements of the environmental ethicsResearch methodological framework of the modeling philosophical, sociological and anthropological approaches to adequately and actively response to the discourse monitoring directed to climate change in the region, Europe and world;

3. Anticipation of permanent form of development policies, as well as alternative forms of institutional organization, to announce new forms of more systematic government. Following unarticulated innovative technologies and techniques for environmental protection;

4. Understanding and studying the reactions of people to natural disasters, climatic and cultural reasons, and migratory movements.