Administrations of Memory: Transcending the Nation and Bringing back the State in Memory Studies

Abstract

This introduction to the special issue start from the point that studying the politics of memory should also involve studying the governance and policies of memory: its administrations. The increasing importance of transnational and local scales in memory studies seems to have made the nation a less relevant starting point from which to conceptualize memory. Yet, states progressively attempt to administer memory. This suggests that we should focus at once on transcending methodological nationalism and bringing back the state in the study of the politics of memory. This involves thinking about administrations of memory both in terms of the processes of dispensing or aiding memory and as the state bodies that are authorized and expected to manage memory. As such, this introductory chapter is structured around two issues: (a) the interactions between transnational, national, and local scales in policy trajectories, practices, and discourses on memory and (b) the role of governance and administration in understanding memory as a category of public intervention. Both sets present a thumbnail case to illustrate the issues at stake, and taken together, they develop our ongoing reflexions on memory as a contemporary conduit for practicing politics and setting up political institutions. The ambition is for memory studies to gain a firmer understanding of the governmental and technocratic co-production of political languages for memory as they are themselves shaped in the policymaking process by (trans)national institutional practices and bureaucratic conduits. In turn, political science approaches on the whole may gain from a firmer appreciation and conceptualization of the structures and carriers of collective memory in and across particular political cultures, which may also lead to more reflexive policy instrumentation and programming in contemporary societies trying to deal in and with the past.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Northern Irish NGO Healing Through Remembering defines storytelling as ‘A project or process which allows reflection, expression, listening, and possible collection of personal, communal and institutional stories related to the conflict in and over Northern Ireland’ (2002).

  2. 2.

    Herweg (2016) defines a policy community as a “mainly loose connection of civil servants, interest-groups, academics, researchers and consultants (the so-called hidden participants), who engage in working out alternatives to the policy problems of a specific policy field” (2016, p. 132).

  3. 3.

    HTR is a cross community organization working with people from diverse backgrounds both within and outside of Northern Ireland. Their work contributes to, and informs, the public debate about dealing with the violent past in Northern Ireland, not least in terms of developing policy. It matches the definition of a policy community.

  4. 4.

    Online since November 2014, the “Accounts of the Conflict” is a digital archive of personal accounts of the conflict, based in Ulster University and designed to provide for the long-term storage of stories related to ‘the Troubles” in, and about, Northern Ireland. Accounts of the Conflict is funded from the European Union’s PEACE lll program, managed by the Special EU Programs Body. The archive contains collections of personal accounts, the vast majority of which have been collected by a wide range of community-based organizations and projects across Northern Ireland and beyond. The website will also have a facility for future story-telling projects to deposit digital versions with the Accounts of the Conflict archive. (Accounts of the Conflict, web).

  5. 5.

    The Belfast Project at Boston College had collected life stories from the rank and file of paramilitary organizations like the IRA and the UVF from 2001 to 2006 for a future establishment of a historical record, but these have been subpoenaed by law enforcements agencies in Northern Ireland since 2011 to be used in current and potential trials (McMurtrie’s 2014).

  6. 6.

    Importantly, the name of the Ministry has changed over time, but for brevity and clarity we will apply this most recent iteration.

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Correspondence to Sara Dybris McQuaid.

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McQuaid, S.D., Gensburger, S. Administrations of Memory: Transcending the Nation and Bringing back the State in Memory Studies. Int J Polit Cult Soc 32, 125–143 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-018-9300-3

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Keywords

  • Administrations
  • Memory
  • Policy
  • Transnational
  • Northern Ireland
  • France