Advertisement

Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Uses of the Past: History as a Resource for the Present

Abstract

Collective memory has become an increasingly important topic in social and human sciences over the past thirty years. Beyond the interest for how we understand history, collective memory research has explored how the past has been used to defend certain understandings of the world (for instance nationalist ideologies), political actions (as in the case of intractable conflicts), or collective identities (particularly when they are seen as reflecting the historical ‘essence’ of a national group). That is, how the history is used as a resource for the present. However, theoretical conceptualisations have more directly focused on how collective memory is produced, and less so on how it is mobilised for the present. In this paper, we propose to review the main conceptualisation of collective memory in psychology – as social thinking, as social identity, and as sense-making – and how they more or less implicitly understand the relations between past and present. In a final section, we argue that representations of history have mainly been seen, in collective memory research, as a source of meaning for the present or as a way to position oneself in the current social field. In conclusion, we propose a third way of understanding the relations between past and present, considering collective memory to be both transformative of the present and prospective for the future.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Alonso, A. M. (1988). The effects of truth: Re-presentations of the past and the imagining of community. Journal of Historical Sociology, 1(1), 33–57.

  2. Andreouli, E., & Howarth, C. (2013). National identity, citizenship and immigration: Putting identity in context. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 43(3), 361–382.

  3. Augoustinos, M., Tuffin, K., & Every, D. (2005). New racism, meritocracy and individualism: constraining affirmative action in education. Discourse & Society, 16(3), 315–340. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926505051168

  4. Austin, J. (1975). How to do things with words (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  5. Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering. A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  6. Berkhofer, R. F. (1997). Beyond the great story: History as text and discourse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  7. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. London: Penguin.

  8. Billig, M. (1987). Arguing and Thinking: A Rhetorical Approach to Social Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  9. Billig, M., Candor, S., Edwards, D., Gane, M., Middleton, D. J., & Radley, A. (1988). Ideological dilemnas: A social Psychology for Everyday thinking. London: Sage Publications.

  10. Brescó de Luna, I. (2018). How the future weights on the past. Prolepsis and other ways of reconstructing the past in relation to different imagined futures. In C. de Saint-Laurent, S. Obradovic, & K. Carriere (Eds.), Imagining collective futures. Perspectives from social, cultural and political psychology (pp. 109–128). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  11. Bresco de Luna, N. (2019). Between the unbearable weight and lightness of the past. Banal silence in Spain’s post-dictatorship memory politics. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 53(1).

  12. Brockmeier, J. (2002). Remembering and forgetting. Narrative as cultural memory. Culture & Psychology, 8(1), 15–43. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354067X0281002.

  13. Bruner, J. S. (1987). Life as narrative. Social Research, 54, 11–32.

  14. Bruner, J. S. (1991). The narrative construction of reality. Critical Inquiry, 18, 1–21.

  15. da Silva, R., & Ferreira, A. S. (2019). The post-dictatorship memory politics in Portugal that erased political violence from the collective memory. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 53(1).

  16. de Saint-Laurent, C. (2014). “I would rather be hanged than agree with you!”. Collective memory and the definition of the nation in parliamentary debates on immigration. Outlines. Critical Practice Studies, 15(3), 22–53.

  17. de Saint-Laurent, C. (2018a). Beyond collective memory. A sociocultural perspective on historical representations. Université de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel.

  18. de Saint-Laurent, C. (2018b). Thinking through time. From collective memory to collective imagination. In C. de Saint-Laurent, S. Obradovic, & K. Carriere (Eds.), Imagining collective futures. Perspectives from social, cultural and political psychology (pp. 59–81). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  19. de Saint-Laurent, C., Obradović, S., & Carriere, K. (Eds.). (2018). Imagining collective futures. Perspectives from social, cultural and political psychology. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  20. Dudai, Y., & Carruthers, M. (2005). The Janus face of Mnemosyne. Nature, 434(7033), 567–567. https://doi.org/10.1038/434567a.

  21. Elcheroth, G., Doise, W., & Reicher, S. (2011). On the knowledge of politics and the politics of knowledge: How a social representations approach helps us rethink the subject of political psychology. Political Psychology, 32(5), 729–758.

  22. Glăveanu, V. P. (2018). Perspectival collective futures: Creativity and imagination in society. In C. de Saint-Laurent, S. Obradović, & K. R. Carriere (Eds.), Imagining collective futures: Perspectives from social, cultural, and political psychology (pp. 83–105). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

  23. Howarth, C. (2006). A social representation is not a quiet thing: Exploring the critical potential of social representations theory. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45(1), 65–86.

  24. Jetten, J., & Wohl, M. J. A. (2012). The past as a determinant of the present: Historical continuity, collective angst, and opposition to immigration. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 442–450. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.865.

  25. Jovchelovitch, S. (2007). In defence of representations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 26, 121–135. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5914.1996.tb00525.x.

  26. Jovchelovitch, S. (2012). Narrative, memory and social representations: A conversation between history and social psychology. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 46(4), 440–456.

  27. Klein, O., & Licata, L. (2003). When group representations serve social change: The speeches of Patrice Lumumba during the Congolese decolonization. British Journal of Social Psychology, 42(2), 571–594.

  28. Leone, G. (2019). Is there a space for post-colonial theory in the socio-psychological research on consequences of colonial past? Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 53(1).

  29. Liu, J. H., & Hilton, D. (2005). How the past weighs on the present: Social representations of history and their role in identity politics. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44, 537–556. https://doi.org/10.1348/014466605X27162.

  30. Liu, J. H., Goldstein-Hawes, R., Hilton, D., Huang, L. L., Gastardo-Conaco, C., Dresler-Hawke, E., et al. (2005). Social representations of events and people in world history across 12 cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36(2), 171–191.

  31. Marková, I. (2000). Amédée or how to get rid of it. Social representations from a dialogical perspective. Culture & Psychology, 6, 419–460. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354067X0064002.

  32. Marková, I. (2003). Dialogicality and social representations: The dynamics of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  33. McAdams, D. P. (1988). Biography, narrative, and lives. An introduction. Journal of Personality, 56(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1988.tb00460.x.

  34. Merck, C., Topcu, M. N., & Hirst, W. (2016). Collective mental time travel. Creating a shared future through our shared past. Memory Studies, 9(3), 284–294. https://doi.org/10.1177/1750698016645236.

  35. Middleton, D. J., & Brown, S. D. (2005). The social psychology of experience. Studies in remembering and forgetting. London: Sage Publications.

  36. Middleton, D. & Brown, S.D. (2007). Issues in the Socio-Cultural Study of Memory: Making Memory Matter. In J. Valsiner and A. Rosa (eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology (pp. 661-677). New York: Cambridge University Press.

  37. Middleton, D. J., & Edwards, D. (1990). Collective remembering. London: Sage Publications.

  38. Moscovici, S. (2000). Social representations: Explorations in social psychology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  39. Nelson, K. (2006). Narratives from the crib. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  40. Nicholson, C. (2016). The role of historical representations in Israeli-Palestinian relations: Narratives from abroad. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 22(1), 5–11. https://doi.org/10.1037/PAC0000143.

  41. Nicholson, C. (2019). From past politics to present myths: Moving on, looking back and staying still. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 53(1).

  42. Obradović, S. (2019). David and Goliath: From past myths to present politics. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 53(1).

  43. Obradović, S., & Howarth, C. (2018). The power of politics: How political leaders in Serbia discursively manage identity continuity and political change to shape the future of the nation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 48(1), O25–O35.

  44. Pontecorvo, C., & Girardet, H. (1993). Arguing and reasoning in understanding historical topics. Cognition and Instruction, 11(3/4), 365–395.

  45. Potter, J., & Edwards, D. (1999). Social representations and discursive psychology. From cognition to action. Culture & Psychology, 5(4), 447–458. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354067X9954004.

  46. Potter, J., & Litton, I. (1985). Some problems underlying the theory of social representations. British Journal of Social Psychology, 24, 81–90. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8309.1985.tb00664.x.

  47. Reicher, S., & Hopkins, N. (2001). Self and nation. London: Sage Publication.

  48. Roth, J., Huber, M., Juenger, A., & Liu, J. H. (2017). It’s about valence: Historical continuity or historical discontinuity as a threat to social identity. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 5(2), 320–341.

  49. Sani, F., Bowe, M., Herrera, M., Manna, C., Cossa, T., Miao, X., & Zhou, Y. (2007). Perceived collective continuity: Seeing groups as entities that move through time. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37(6), 1118–1134.

  50. Smeekes, A., & Verkuyten, M. (2015). The presence of the past: Identity continuity and group dynamics. European Review of Social Psychology, 26(1), 162–202, https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2015.1112653.

  51. Spellman, B. A., & Holyoak, K. J. (1992). If Saddam is Hitler then who is George Bush? Analogical mapping between systems of social roles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(6), 913–933. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.62.6.913.

  52. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey: Brooks/Cole.

  53. Tomicic, A., & Berardi, F. (2018). Between past and present: The Sociopsychological constructs of colonialism, coloniality and postcolonialism. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 52(1), 152–175. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-017-9407-5.

  54. Vygotsky, L. S. (2004). Imagination and creativity in childhood. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 42(1), 7–97.

  55. Wagoner, B. (2017). The constructive mind. Bartlett’s psychology in reconstruction. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  56. Wertsch, J. (2002). Voices of collective remembering. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  57. Wertsch, J. (2008). The narrative organization of collective memory. Ethos, 36, 120–135. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1352.2008.00007.x.

  58. Wilmer, F. (2002). Social construction of man, the state and war identity, conflict, and violence in former Yugoslavia. New York, London: Routledge.

  59. Zittoun, T. (2006). Transitions. Development through symbolic resources. Greenwich: Information Age Publishing.

  60. Zittoun, T. (2017). Symbolic resources and sense-making in learning and instruction. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 32(1), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-016-0310-0.

Download references

Funding

Constance de Saint-Laurent has received funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant P400PS_180686).

Author information

Correspondence to Constance de Saint-Laurent.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

de Saint-Laurent, C., Obradović, S. Uses of the Past: History as a Resource for the Present. Integr. psych. behav. 53, 1–13 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-018-9463-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Collective memory
  • Social thinking
  • Social identity
  • Meaning-making
  • Prospective memory