chapter  5
22 Pages

Collective Memory and Forgetting: Components for a Study of Obituaries


I am immersed in a problem: What are newspaper obituaries, sociologically speaking? Why do we choose to remember these lives and what do they tell us about those whom we respect in capitalist modernity? I shall start by seeing these brief biographies in terms of social or collective memory, convinced that they are more than a series of recollections about random individuals.1 But the concept of collective memory also has a certain contemporary seductiveness. I shall pose a sceptical question about whether this is an intellectual tool which is really good to think with, or whether it is merely an empty, but fashionable, phrase. Refuting the latter argument, I shall explain why by rst introducing the fin-de-siècle concept of memory, with Bergson in 1896. I shall then explore the role of collective memory in the theory of two canonical interwar and wartime writers, Halbwachs, on the social frameworks underpinning memory, and Benjamin on the decline of traditional memory. is clarication completed, I shall return to the problem of the obituaries as collective memory and oer a theory of their social determinants, meaning and types.