The sixth Mnemonics: Network for Memory Studies summer school will be hosted by the Frankfurt Memory Studies Platform from September 7-9, 2017 at Goethe University Frankfurt. Confirmed keynote speakers are Aleida Assmann (University of Konstanz), Andreas Huyssen (Columbia University, New York) and Anna Reading (King’s College London).

This year’s Mnemonics summer school addresses the ‘social life of memory’. Memory studies is based on the premise that memories emerge (as Maurice Halbwachs argued) within ‘social frameworks’. But this is just the first stage of memory’s social dynamics. Those memories which have an impact in culture don’t just stand still, but lead a vibrant ‘social life’: They are mediated and remediated, emphatically welcomed and harshly criticized, handed on across generations, they travel across space, become connected with other memories or turn into a paradigm for further experience. Conversely, books about the past that are not sold and read, oral stories that are not passed on to grandchildren, history films that are not screened and reviewed, monuments that nobody visits, public apologies that do not engender heated debates – all these will fail to have an effect in memory culture. Memory ‘lives’ only insofar as it is continually shared among people, moves from minds and bodies to media and back again, is performed, remediated, translated, received, discussed and negotiated.

Once we conceive of objects and media as part of memory culture, we realize that these are not stable entities, containing unalterable meanings, but that they unfold their mnemonic significance only within dynamic and transitory social processes. This insight entails methodological consequences. It creates the need to use more complex theory/methodology-designs in order to do justice to the moving constellations we study. This may also mean connecting humanities- and social sciences-approaches. Reception theories, reader response theories, audience studies, performance studies, sociological and political science-methods, museum visitor studies, social history, social psychology, ethnography, or actor-network theory – these all belong to the long list of approaches that we may want to draw on in order to study what our research group here in Frankfurt calls ‘socio-medial constellations’ of memory.

The metaphor of the ‘social life of memory’ is not yet a clear-cut concept. However, it resonates with existing ideas, from Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘social life of discourse’ to Arjun Appadurai’s ‘social life of things’ or Alondra Nelson’s ‘the social life of DNA’. It also brings to mind the ‘afterlife’ of artworks as it was addressed by Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin. More recently, and within the new memory studies, Astrid Erll and Stephanie Wodianka have addressed the life of ‘memory-making films’ by studying their embeddedness in social contexts and in ‘plurimedial constellations’. In her study of Walter Scott, Ann Rigney has theorized the social (after-)lives of texts and authors in cultural memory.

The summer school welcomes paper proposals that display a keen interest in the dynamic interplay of medial and social aspects of memory culture and that suggest ways to explore ‘the social life of memory’ – from the perspectives of contemporary memory cultures across the globe as well as from historical viewpoints. Possible topics include, but are emphatically not restricted to, the following:

  • What social practices and networks bring (and have historically brought) memory to life (or fail to do so)?
  • How are media of memory socially framed and reframed?
  • How can we study the social reception of media of memory (e.g. via discursive remembering, in interpretive communities, by historical audiences etc.) ?
  • What are the social dynamics of memory-translation (the ‘cultural translation’ of memories, but also ‘literal translations’ of memory texts)?
  • Which performances express and foster the social life of memory, or inhibit it?
  • How do memory objects ‘travel’, what are their trajectories (or mnemonic ‘object biographies’)?
  • What are the economics and politics of mnemonic objects (in the sense of Appadurai’s ‘social life of things’)?
  • How do space and movement influence the social life of memory?
  • How does time factor in the social life of memory (when do memories emerge, circulate or become inert)?
  • How does politics enable or interfere with the social life of memory?
  • What types of ‘social life’ can we distinguish (lives as ‘monumental memory’, as ‘countermemory’, ‘agonistic lives’ etc.)?
  • How can we critically assess the logic of the metaphor of ‘social life’ (and its possible religious, biologistic etc. overtones) and find concepts that fine-tune, substitute or complement it?


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