Solitary Amnesia as National Memory: From Habermas to Luhmann

By Rodanthi Tzanelli.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

The repressive mechanisms of collective memory have been the subject of a fierce debate in the human sciences - especially, but not exclusively, in the study of nationalism. This paper re-investigates the nature of national memory in the context of European nationalisms by drawing on contemporary national cases of remembering and forgetting. The explored instances are mobilized in the study of remembering/forgetting on a factual, rather than ideal level. Theoretically, it is argued that the Habermassian call for fostering ‘anamnestic solidarity’ with the past often fails in practice because of its normative undertones that disagree with Realpolitic demands. This is so because nationalist discourse, which serves to preserve the political interests of the national community, has to present itself to political forces that reside outside the community as a closed, autopoetic system akin to that theorized by Niklas Luhmann. Although the Luhmannian thesis (which would gesture towards the autonomisation of national memory) also fails to explain the nature of nationalist remembering/forgetting tout court, it allows more space for an exploration of nationalist self-presentation than Habermas’ normative stance. The argument in this study, which combines an appreciation of hermeneutics and autopoeia, is that the practice of (re)producing the ‘nation’s’ solitary amnesia enables nationalist discourse to respond to external political pressures. This presents the latter as a dialogical/hermeneutic project despite its solipsistic ‘façade’.

Keywords: Collective Memory, Europe, Habermas, Hermeneutics, Luhmann, Nationalism

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.253-260. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 516.021KB).

Dr. Rodanthi Tzanelli

Lecturer in Sociology, Social Sciences, Medway Campus, Sociology and Social Research, Canterbury, Kent, UK

Rodanthi Tzanelli is lecturer in Sociology at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, and Visiting Lecturer at the Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University (from April-August 2007). She has previously taught in history, sociology and criminology at Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire and held several research posts in Greece and in Britain, and an AHRB scholarship. Her research interests include the sociology of nationalism (with reference to inequalities in Europe), tourism, globalisation and resistance (with particular reference to the politics and ethics of culture industries and the relationship of film and tourist industries) and representations of deviancy (with particular reference to race, ethnicity and gender). She has published on all these areas in international journals. Her first research monograph will be published by Routledge in early 2007 (The Cinematic Tourist: Explorations in Globalization, Culture and Resistance, International Library of Sociology).

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