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Collective Memory: Metaphor or Real?

Abstract

Collective memory researchers predominantly in the cultural and social sciences have commonly understood the concept of collective memory as a mere metaphor, as something not existing in itself as memory but useful only as a tool for referring to the way groups construct shared representations of their past. Few have however addressed the question of whether it is a metaphor or literal in its own right. This paper looks at the plausibility of the claim that collective memory is a mere metaphor by probing its presuppositions, where the representationalist theory of mind emerges as the ground for such a claim. Then appealing to the externalist model of the mind championed in recent studies of mind in disciplines as varied as philosophy, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and collective intentionality studies, we try to expose the presuppositions of that claim, opening up possibilities for conceiving collective memory as not merely metaphorical but literal and naturally existing as memory.

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  1. Throughout the paper I have used the terms “real” and “literal” synonymously. To be clear, by asking if collective memory is “real”, I am not questioning the realness of the concept collective memory. A concept can be considered real regardless of whether it is socially constructed or grounded naturally. We are here concerned with the basis of the concept – whether it is referring literally to the cognitive domain of memory or whether to something else but memory. If it refers to the cognitive domain of memory, collective memory would exist sui generis as a certain kind of memory, and this is the meaning of real (or literal) presented here. If on the other hand it is not referring to the actual cognitive domain of memory but has conventionally been constructed (using individual memory as analogy) as an instrument to help us understand or deal (as scientists or otherwise) with the collective past, then we are considering it as not real but only a metaphor.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the reviewer for the valuable comments and suggestions. My thanks also to my doctoral advisor Prof. Debarshi Prasad Nath for his overall support.

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Correspondence to Premjit Laikhuram.

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Laikhuram, P. Collective Memory: Metaphor or Real?. Integr. psych. behav. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-022-09683-7

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Keywords

  • Cultural memory
  • Social cognition
  • Enactive approach
  • Interdisciplinary social science
  • Cultural studies