Historical and Collective Memory in the Middle and Far East

by Karolina Rak (Volume editor) Michał Lipa (Volume editor) Olga Barbasiewicz (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 142 Pages


Memories contribute to the construction of the image or interpretation of the past and the present. This book focuses on the topic of memory in the Middle and Far East societies by highlighting non-European cases of practicing collective and historical memory.
The Far East cases include the memory of the Japanese occupation of Korea, issues of Japanization policies within the Taiwanese society, the role of museums in Chinese patriotism, the issue of contemporary Japanese nationalists, and public memory evaluation in India.
The Middle Eastern contexts concentrate on the impact of the Arab Spring, historical memory in the politics of Muslim movements and interpreting aspects of heritage.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction to the Theory of Memory and Remembrance in the Context of Middle and Far East Societies (Olga Barbasiewicz, Michał Lipa)
  • Part 1 Historical and Collective Memory in the Far East
  • Monuments and Places of Remembrance in Post-War Japanese-Korean Relations. The Case of the Governor General’s Building and Hiroshima Memorial Park (Olga Barbasiewicz)
  • Taiwan’s memory of the wrong side of the war (Bogdan Zemanek)
  • The Role of Dark Tourism National Memorials in Reconstructing Historical Awareness in China (Joanna Wardęga)
  • Crime Denied: The Japanese Right Wing and Its Vision of The Second World War (Joanna Katarzyna Puchalska)
  • Public Space for Memory in India and Its Structural Resilience (Ramachandra Byrappa)
  • Part 2 Historical and Collective Memory in the Middle East
  • Cultural Versus Legal Interpretations of Cultural Heritage: Discussion on the Example of Jordan (Julia Kościuk-Załupka)
  • Historical Memory in the Politics of the Middle East Muslim Movements: The Crusades Before the Second World War (Dušan Proroković)
  • The Youth, Arab Spring and Collective Memory in Tunisia (Michał Lipa, Karolina Rak)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Olga Barbasiewicz, Michał Lipa

Introduction to the Theory of Memory and Remembrance in the Context of Middle and Far East Societies

Memory of past events has always been a significant issue among societies. Remembering wrongdoings, past conflicts, territorial disputes, etc., can lead to political struggles and conflicts among nations. This paper focuses on the historical and collective memory in the Middle and Far East. Since in the historical memory there is no participation from society, the collective memory is responsible for the conversion of historical figures and facts into the language of symbols, which is characteristic for a given group or nation.1 The collective memory is extremely important in shaping the citizens’ perception of themselves, and is useful in distinguishing one community from another – ourselves from strangers.2 Historical memory is the echo of different events, while collective memory is a source of tradition.3 The term “historical memory” derives directly from the German expression Geschichtspolitik, which was used for the first time during “the historians’ dispute” (Historikerstreit) in the second half of the 1980s.4 There can be numerous historical memories, whereas history is only one.

The division of history from memory started in the 1970s in France, though memory studies were conducted by, i.e., Maurice Halbwachs in the 1920s. Pierre Nora, a French historian, claimed in his works that history had been replaced by memory because it is more comprehensive and universal.5 But how ←7 | 8→can we define memory itself? Henry Rousso defines it as an ambiguous concept from the point of view of social sciences, which strives for globalization.6 Marie-Claire Lavabre, a French sociologist, followed this theory and noticed that the problem of “memory” is undergoing constant globalization.7 In this book, we focus on this aspect of memory – a globalized term, which is present in the policy of not only European countries but also Asian, defined as the Middle and Far East, and, therefore, globalized.

Contemporary societies have imposed on themselves the obligation to remember. Memory has become part of political life as well as everyday surroundings. Pierre Nora defined the places that remind us of past events – the “realms of memory.” In his theory of the places of remembrance, Nora mentions several “realms” that remind us of the past. Among them we can define: geographical locations, literature or works of art, historical figures, monuments and buildings, emblems, celebrations and symbols.8 From this definition, we can see that memory is all-encompassing. We should also emphasize the role of mass media. It is called by Martin Sabrow, Ralph Jessen and Klaus Grosse “the everyday historian,” which has the greatest influence on the citizens’ awareness of the past of their nation and the role of memory.9

James Wertsch and Henry Roediger noted that the term “collective memory” is used interchangeably with public or cultural memory, which does not facilitate conceptualization. To solve this problem, they proposed comparing this term with other – similar, although not identical – terms in order to provide clarification, that is “collective remembering,” “history” and “individual remembering.” First, they pointed to a dichotomy – static vs. dynamic. While collective memory is rather static (“static base of knowledge”), collective remembering is processual and argumentative (“repeated reconstruction of representations of the past”). What about history? If collective remembering is a dynamic process that relates to the past, how does it differ from history as such? Wertsch and Roediger claim that history tries to present the past accurately and ←8 | 9→objectively, while collective remembering refers to the past subjectively. In the second case, certain narratives are favored since the point of reference becomes the identity.10

Our understanding of analysis of collective memory and collective remembering is based on social constructionism, as the theoretical approach to research on how individuals remember the past. This concept, although controversial among some social scientists,11 seems to be best suited for research on “constructing memory” about the events that “happened,” especially politically important events. Hence, what is social constructionism and why does it seem to be the right approach to the study of how people remember the past?

“There is no one school of social constructionism. Rather, it is a broad church.”12 But who “established” this church and why? The discussion on social constructionism was initiated by the classic work of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s, The Social Construction of Reality,13 published in 1967, which aimed to contribute to the sociology of knowledge. This knowledge should not be understood as philosophical or scientific knowledge, but as the “common view” of the members of a given society. Darin Weinberg argues that this “popular” knowledge should be understood as “an empirically observable and researchable phenomenon rather than a merely imagined normative ideal.”14

Before we move on to more current ways of analyzing what people remember, think, and eventually know, we need to turn our attention to classical researchers who have tried to tackle this problem from a macro perspective. Karl Marx, for example, drew attention to the issue of “false consciousness” that makes people co-responsible for their suffering. Georg Lukacs and Antonio Gramsci then combined the issue of class consciousness with an “ideological hegemony,” representing the interests of the most powerful socio-economic actors. In this way, social knowledge, including memory, was combined with political and economic power or dominance. Furthermore, connections between knowledge ←9 | 10→and power can be found in the works of scholars and intellectuals dealing with post-colonialism, such as Edward Said, Stuart Hall, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu. Similar issues can be found in the works of feminist researchers, such as Dorothy Smith. However, the turning point for constructionism was the transformation of the critical concept of ideology into a neutral sociological analysis of knowledge, which was initiated by Karl Mannheim.15

Going forward, one of the main goals and challenges for constructionism became a clear separation between what is natural (e.g., biological sex) and what is cultural, that is socially constructed (e.g., gender). It has also become an important challenge for constructionism, due to the abandonment of the idea of the objective truth, to distinguish between true and false claims. It was, therefore, necessary to determine the techniques for assessing the value of individual claims. This has remained the weaker point of the research conducted according to the constructionist approach. However, this does not change the fact that constructionism draws the most from sociological methodology, especially from the American tradition of micro-sociology. It is characterized by a move away from structuralist determinism towards empirical research on the actions of individual social actors. According to this approach, people – guided by certain norms, values, meanings, and patterns of interpretation – constantly negotiate the social order. The development of this approach was supported by the growth of the importance of ethnology.16

However, it seems that the most valuable contribution to the evolution of constructionism was made by the efforts made due to the development of sociology of scientific knowledge (sociology of science), referring to the legacy of Thomas Kuhn and his classic work – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. According to this, scientific inquiries cannot be treated as being above the socio-cultural context. In fact, the social researcher is a “member” of society (also the one he or she researches), which means that the researcher is not free from constraints. In addition, this means that scientific cognition can be the subject of scientific research – just like other social phenomena. Applying this claim to the social sciences, one must admit that sociological or ethnological knowledge (like any other) is also socially constructed.17←10 | 11→

Given that even scientific knowledge is socially constructed and depends on the context, the experiences of past generations and the meanings that people attribute to particular facts, as well as the perception and interpretation of past events are characterized by substantial subjectivity. Moreover, our perception of the world is determined by an ideological factor and a discursive framework – especially by the language we use, describing the world around us and giving meaning to particular facts and objects. Therefore, the research on collective memory is mainly limited to the analysis of discourse, since language is a tool for constructing meaning.18 According to Corey W. Johnson, B. Dana Kivel, and Luc S. Cousineau: “[e]‌xperience is never simply a reflection of what someone has done, felt, or thought – experience is always constructed through discourses of a priori knowledge and power.”19

The meaning comes from the individual interaction with the object of each person’s reflection, which takes place in a specific socio-cultural context. Thus, the meaning is constructed by the people, not discovered through the efforts of human reason. This socio-cultural context (but also economic, political and historical – they cannot be separated) is of great importance. The knowledge that is “created” in this way is subjective and relative by nature. It is preceded by how people perceive their reality, think about it, but also how they communicate. Thus, the language must be seen as the form of “social action.” The important point here is that, in this way, individual and collective actions reflect the relations of power (not only political power or domination, but also economic or even cultural ones), which emanates from the dominant (hegemonic) ideology. This ideology does not have to be explicitly expressed, although language, patterns of interpretation, as well as social institutions permeated through it.20

At this point, it is necessary to go back to the concept of “memory.” Memories, which are subjective reconstructions of the past events, reflect collectively constructed “truths” about the surrounding world, and, thus, contribute to the ←11 | 12→further construction of the image or interpretation of the past and the present. This process has no ending.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
memory studies remembrance heritage Asian socieities collective narratives
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 142 pp.

Biographical notes

Karolina Rak (Volume editor) Michał Lipa (Volume editor) Olga Barbasiewicz (Volume editor)

Olga Barbasiewicz, Ph.D., Assistant Prof. at the Institute of Middle and Far East of the Jagiellonian University (JU) in Kraków. She focuses on memory politics, and Japanese-Korean relations. Karolina Rak, Ph.D., Assistant Prof. at the Institute of the Middle and Far East of JU. Her research interests include contemporary Muslim discourse. Michał Lipa, Ph.D., Assistant Prof. at the Institute of the Middle and Far East of JU. He is interested in theories of authoritarianism and democratization.


Title: Historical and Collective Memory in the Middle and Far East