Social memory studies: Western course, Chinese perspectives and methods

QIAN Licheng1 ZHANG Hexuan1

(1.Department of Sociology, Virginia University)

【Abstract】Starting with a review of the relevant studies in the West and China, the study here led to an overall understanding of the development and the major content of social memory studies among Western scholars, followed by an analysis of the mechanisms of memory, the different branches of memory studies, as well as a summary of three perspectives for memory studies, namely the perspective of state power, the perspective of social group and the perspective of historical transformation, adopted by Chinese academia which emphasized such concepts as state’s presence, underclass stance and institutional transformation. Four research methods were often used for memory studies, including symbols and texts, oral history and ethnography, comparative historical analysis and quantitative analysis. Finally, based on the comparative analysis of Western and Chinese memory studies, the social implications of and future possibilities for memory studies in China were discussed.

【Keywords】 social memory; cultural memory; realm of memory; state presence; underclass stance;


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(Translated by ZHANG Wei)


    [1]. ① “Memory boom” is not a research trend appeared suddenly, there was still research between Halbwachs and Nora. The influence of Annals School still existed between the 1930s and 1980s and directly made contribution to the appearance of theory of Nora. Countries in the European continent, especially Czech and Poland started the study of memories on the society from 1940s to 1960. (Kilias, 2013; Tarkowaska, 2013). [^Back]

    [2]. ② The Chinese version of Les Lieux de Memoire (Nora, 2012) translated by Dai Lijuan is translated to “realms of memory” in this article. [^Back]

    [3]. ① Other studies on holocaust will be detailed on the part of “traumatic memory.” Also Olick reminded us that although the memory studies and civilization rupture made by the holocaust closely connected, we cannot think the holocaust determine the emergence of memory studies (Olick et al., 2011). [^Back]

    [4]. ① Apart from psychology, memory studies also involve literature and other disciplines. For example, Stephen Owen analyzed the remembrances in classical Chinese literature (Owen, 2004). Due to the limited space, this article mainly analyzes memories studies in the fields of history and sociology, then others will not be detailed here. [^Back]

    [5]. ① The concept of “state presence” also was mentioned in other fields (Gao, 2001). This article is not aimed at the interpretation of this concept in details, but outlining the features of Chinese memory studies by this concept. [^Back]

    [6]. ① The comparative historical analysis represented by Skocpol is controversial in the field of historical sociology. Sewell pointed that the approach of comparative historical analysis was not an approach of history, because it neglected the relations between object A and object B (for example, Skocpol did not involve the influence of Russian Revolution on Chinese Revolution) and its constant control variables and assumption that all events were independent from each other will not be realized being divorced from the history. [^Back]

    [7]. ① Multi-layer memory includes the comparison of different memories of various generations and classes on one event. [^Back]


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This Article


CN: 11-1100/C

Vol 30, No. 06, Pages 215-237+246

November 2015


Article Outline


  • 1 Introduction: memory boom and memory studies
  • 2 Western memory studies: contents and genealogy
  • 3 Memory studies in China: perspectives and characteristics
  • 4 Four approaches to social memory studies
  • 5 Conclusion: social significance and future research
  • Footnote