Date of Degree

2-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Barbara Katz Rothman

Committee Members

Thomas DeGloma

James M. Jasper

Gail Garfield

Subject Categories

Food Studies | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Sociology of Culture

Keywords

Culture, Social Memory, Post-Socialism, Narrative Identity

Abstract

What role do historical events in general—and the German reunification in particular—play in the process of meaning-making? Operating from the premise that historical events can only exist as mediated and interpreted representations of the past, this project examines the above questions by exploring the ways in which the past is used to construct, build, and negotiate the present. Analyzing various mnemonic spaces, such as commemorative political speeches, the built environment, in-depth life-history interviews of East Germans, and exchanges about the past in social media groups, I examine the mechanisms through which historical events are both made and strategically employed.

The core argument proposed in this project is that historical events—socially constructed and communicated as collective memory—form a historical tool kit which provide individuals with narrative resources from which personal memory can be formulated. In this respect, the historical tool kit presents a repertoire of events, shaped by the collective memory, from which individuals make strategic decisions as to which events become part of their personal narratives about the past. Considering the various resources and rules provided in the different mnemonic spaces, one of the key findings of this project is that the ways in which East Germany’s socialist past is remembered is not only strategic, but moreover, largely dependent on the playing field in which social agents perform social memory.

Framed in the context of literature on collective, personal and autobiographical memory, collective and cultural identity, post-colonial theory, and (post)-socialism, this project advances our theoretical understandings of the interplay between personal and collective memory, and discursive and physical-symbolic mnemonic spaces. On an empirical level, this project informs us about the ways in which the social memory of life in East German socialist society continues to permeate and shape understandings of the present.

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