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How Societies Remember (Themes in the Social Sciences) First Edition Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521270939
ISBN-10: 0521270936
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Editorial Reviews

Book Description

An essential aspect of social memory, until now badly neglected, is stressed in this study of memory that concentrates on incorporated practices and provides an account of how they are transmitted in and as traditions.

About the Author

Paul Connerton is a Research Associate in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and an Honorary Fellow in the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies at the University of London. His recent publications include How Modernity Forgets (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Jack Goody is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St John's College. Recently knighted by Her Majesty The Queen for services to anthropology, Professor Goody has researched and taught all over the world, is a Fellow of the British Academy and in 1980 was made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and he was elected Commandeur des Arts et Lettres in 2006.

Geoffrey Hawthorn is Professor Emeritus of International Politics, University of Cambridge. He has taught sociology and politics at the Universities of Essex and Cambridge and was twice a visiting professor at Harvard University. He has published books on human fertility, the history of social theory, counterfactual thinking in history and the social sciences and the politics of east Asia. He also studied the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and has written a large number of essays and reviews across a range of subjects in philosophy and politics.

John Dunn is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of numerous works including" Rethinking Modern Political Theory" (1985)," Modern Revolutions" (1989) and" The Politics of Socialism" (1984).
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Product Details

  • Series: Themes in the Social Sciences
  • Paperback: 121 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; First Edition edition (November 24, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521270936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521270939
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
I read this book and was not unimpressed with Connerton's analysis. However, the book opens with one of the most egregious acts of plagiarism I have ever seen. Compare these passages. The first is from Connerton's opening chapter. The second is from Hannah Arendt's ON REVOLUTION (Penguin Books):
"All beginnings contain an element of recollection. This is particularly so when a social group makes a concerted effort to begin with a wholly new start. There is a MEASURE OF COMPLETE ARBITRARINESS in the VERY NATURE of any such attempted beginning. The BEGINNING HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO HOLD ON TO; IT IS AS IF IT CAME OUT OF NOWHERE. FOR A MOMENT, THE MOMENT OF BEGINNING, IT IS AS IF THE BEGINNERS HAS ABOLISHED THE SEQUENCE OF TEMPORALITY ITSELF AND WERE THROWN OUT OF THE CONTINUITY OF THE TEMPORAL ORDER." (Connerton, p. 6).
"It is in the VERY NATURE of a beginning to carry with itself a MEASURE OF COMPLETE ARBITRARINESS. Not only is it not bound into a reliable chain of cause and effect, a chain in which each effect immediately turns into the cause for future developments, THE BEGINNING HAS, as it were, NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO HOLD ON TO; IT IS AS THOUGH IT CAME OUT OF NOWHERE in time or space. FOR A MOMENT, THE MOMENT OF BEGINNING, IT IS AS THOUGH THE BEGINNER HAD ABOLISHED THE SEQUENCE OF TEMPORALITY ITSELF, or as though the actors WERE THROWN OUT OF THE TEMPORAL ORDER AND ITS CONTINUITY." (Arendt, p. 206).
Arendt's book was published some 25 years prior to Connerton's and Arendt's name appears nowhere in the text or the bibliography.
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Format: Paperback
A short book that has been very important in opening up the field of social memory and in bringing the work of Maurice Halbwachs back into focus. The book is a good introduction to the basic problems of social memory, useful to historians, sociologists and anthropologists. Connerton makes the important point that social memory is essentially performative in character and points to the importance of the bodily practices in memory. The final chapter on bodily practices is however rather disappointing in that he tends to equate bodily memory with 'habit memory', thereby putting stress too much on repetition and the incorporation of codes and missing important points on the phenomenological primacy and agency of the body. Still a classic, though.
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Connerton's thesis about the communal/social aspects of memory prompted me to recall the proposed research project of a friend of mine in a doctoral programme, dealing with aspects of received knowledge of children - how do children of each successive generation, across social classes and often across cultural divides, seem to know certain things that are not taught to them by adults, particularly as adults seem to have forgotten these things themselves, but that are known by other children. How is this collective childhood body of knowledge maintained and continued without any formalised structure of preservation or transmission? This type of question can have relevance toward many types of study.
Connerton's distinction between social memory and historical reconstruction is an important one. We might know the factual (or, at least, the conjectured factual) details of lost cultures and societies, but their social memory is, by virtue of their disappearance, inaccessible to us, save in the possible elements that have been continued in present cultures or societies. However, I am not sure I can subscribe to Connerton's complete application of the principle of historical reconstruction being necessarily removed from social memory. Connerton writes, `A historically tutored memory is opposed to an unreflective traditional memory.' (p. 16) We none of us operate as pure historical reconstructionists; our social memory influences even the manner in which we pursue an historical memory; surely there is a cross-influence as work as some level (and perhaps often different levels).
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Connerton believes that commemorative rituals create a form of "metaphysical present" where participants actually re-present the mythic events that contain meaning for them-they give it "ceremonially embodied form." There are three distinct types of memory (personal, cognitive, and habit-memory), all of which shape individuals and groups in social ways. The habit-memory is acquired in a similar way to language, and Connerton shows how the "meaning of a social habit rests upon others' conventional expectations such that it must be interpretable as a socially legitimate (or illegitimate) performance. Social habits are essentially legitimating performances. And if habit-memory is inherently performative, then social habit-memory must be distinctively social-performative." Social habit-memory is an "essential ingredient in the successful and convincing performance of codes and rules" (pp. 35-6).
In a chapter on bodily practices, Connerton writes of the "choreography of authority," which is expressed through the body, where the specific postures, gestures, physical habit-memories, etc. used in performance of ritual provides a "mnemonics of the body" then provide codes for incorporating practices (much like inscribing practices, the study of which has been privileged in the West) (pp. 74-5). The implication, then, that we can "read" incorporated practices through their appropriate interpretation (much in the way that a hermeneutic scholarship has been able to interpret texts of law and theology, p. 96) as "techniques, proprieties, and ceremonies" seems like the development of a new theory that could potentially transform the study of ritual and performance in anthropology. An ability to "map" the habit-memory physicality of an event, in its historical and sociological context, could provide a way to speak about movement and action that-up to now-has not been accomplished.
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