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Inspiring Practices for Slow Methodologies

Inspiring Practices for Slow Methodologies

Practice Guide for Slow Memory Methodologies

authored by Sara Dybris McQuaid, Annemarie Majlund Jensen and Kate Turner

On which basis:
The guide is based on take aways from the Slow Memory COST Action (CA20105) conference and training school Slow Memory Methodologies, organised at the University of Aarhus from the 12th to the 16th of June 2023. The guide is aimed at sharing experiences and providing inspiration for how to work with slow memory as part of research collaborations anchored in memory studies and neighbouring fields.

Guiding who:

The guide is for researchers, students, and practitioners in and outside of memory studies working with slow memory.

It is for those already working with memory studies who are interested in sharpening their methodological tools in working with slow memory.

It is for those interested in working with slow memory as a point of entry to the wider field of memory studies.

Guiding how:

The guide is thought of as a tool for inspiration, providing points of reflection on ‘inspirational practices’ rather than as a comprehensive outline of ‘best practices’.

Guiding what:

The guide includes points of reflection on how to work ‘slowly’ with memory in terms of four areas, each of which reflect distinct challenges facing researchers and practitioners.

  1. Examples of Slow Memory methods


One general challenge facing memory studies scholars is to select an appropriate set of methods tailored to grasp the workings of memory as slow processes rather than as phenomena concentrated around events. This challenge is tied to the problem of measuring, and thus of identifying, when something ‘morphs’ from a process to an event or from an event to a process.

However, methods for slow memory also present particular opportunities and challenges as they involve direct engagement with the lived experiences of research participants and with environments. Direct engagement with people provides the opportunity for deep insight into the ways in which we relate to the past, present and future and how these relationships are transformed over time. Nevertheless, working with people – and other beings – takes time, it requires careful consideration of how to balance the needs of research participants, the demands of the research process and the work of the researcher in specific research engagements.

With its potential to study mnemonic events as a matter of the everyday, oral history can be a useful methodological tool to explore the slow ‘processing’ of events as well as the slow transformation of events into processes with (‘measurable’?) mnemonic value.

However, studying memory over longer periods of time and identifying memory as a slow process of accumulation often calls for methods that are time consuming. These are methods that require engagement with a field or a constituency over a sustained period of time and may require a lot of invisible, emotional work, put into creating and maintaining relationships, in order to be successful. Tenured academics with research time as an integral part of their position can “afford” to work with longer horizons than those in more precarious or project-based positions, but we are all subjected to the “projectification” of academia and the pressures to pursue new, innovative ideas more than slowly deepening existing knowledge.

With its potential to study the narrative as well as the sensory life of memory, qualitative research using ethnographic approaches can be useful to explore undiscovered sources of mnemonic experience.

Walk-and Talks: Slow memories of place

Walk-and-talks aim to engage research participants in a practice of talking about and reflecting on the (slow) transformation of familiar locales over time and the ways in which personal memories inhabit these locales in sometimes unexpected ways. Walk-and-talks can be used to talk about personal, cultural and environmental memories that bring in the past as present in changing public spaces and places. The method can be a tool to study the ‘slow’ transformation of places over time as well as the importance of place in life-stories and personal biographies of individuals.

Photo-elicitation: Using photographic material to study the sociality and materiality of slow memory

The method of photo-elicitation aims to use photographs to structure conversations around participants’ personal pasts. Talking about photographs can be used as a method to study both the sociality and the materiality of slow memory. The approach can be used to study the ways in which participants’ memories are shaped by changing social categories, institutions and policies over time. At the same time, the method can also be used to focus on the sensory dimension of memories. Photographic collections and single photographs that hold affective value to participants may work as personal ‘relics’ or as testimonies of a past that is shared with others.

The politics of listening and engaging:

Slowing down also means taking the time to listen. Listening is of course an integral part of making oral history, but beyond producing more listening material, we also want to think about listening to what is already out there. Oral histories and storytelling material abound as “giving voice” to people has become a guiding norm in the humanities and social sciences. However, for the intended recognition to materialise, somebody needs to listen and reflect on what is being said. In conflict-affected contexts or in relation to vulnerable people, engaging with the, often overwhelming, amount of existing data and sources, can be an ethico-political practice that slows down production of ever more material that few people come to engage with. Similarly, we are thinking about “augmenting” existing educational materials on dealing with the past, with a slow memory approach, instead of producing new materials from scratch. We understand this layered engagement with existing materials as a considerate, reflexive and sustainable practice, which recognises, appreciates and builds on work already done by others.

  1. ‘Slow’ collaborations/engagement with stakeholders.

Another issue is the challenge of sustaining long-term collaborations with stakeholders in a short-term project-based research economy.

‘Slow’ engagement with memory stakeholders requires reflection on how to create generative platforms to share, develop and maintain collaboration in the framework of short-term contracts and funding schemes, which apply both to the higher education sector and to the third sector (particularly small NGO’s and community-based organisations).

From a third sector stakeholder perspective, it is important that research collaborations do not end up draining their resources (both human and otherwise) but instead build on, contribute to and augment their existing work. This, of course, requires prior knowledge of their organisation, mission and vision.

Also, projectification in the third sector often means that most small organisations have very little core funding. In developing collaborations, it is key to find out what kind of contribution might work best for the particular stakeholders. It can for example be a lump sum for workshops, which can be held at their premises and which they can spend on for example room booking, consultancy fees, travel expenses or invitations to training schools with travel and expenses funded. Contributions might also be in the shape of producing documentation.

  1. Slow research practices and forms of dissemination.

The conditions of slow research in a fast-paced publishing environment are challenging, when ideas at once can be seen to flow freely but where at the same time access to publishing channels, networks and institutional resources is unequally distributed between members holding different positions within the academic community.

Slow research practices take into consideration whether the notion of ‘memory as event’ is socially neutral and how ‘non-eventful’ memory is socially, sometimes unequally, distributed among individuals and groups of mnemonic agents.

For slow memory research practice to be successful and ethically sustainable it is also necessary to reflect on how to prevent the theft of ideas. This includes reflecting on – and taking seriously – the processes through which ideas come into circulation in the first place, where they originate, how they emerge and by whom they are carried forward and who the beneficiaries are.

  1. Ethics of engagement with slow memory

Researchers working with slow memory, should make the research process participatory and empowering. Research participants should, as a matter of course, be protected by informed consent and maintain autonomy of their own stories and memories. Research should be designed to allow participants sustained engagement with the impact of stories and memories in concrete contexts and beyond any one voice or project. Research processes should be designed with transparency, accountability and sustainability. This includes distributing risks and benefits of the research and its outcomes, equally. Eliciting memories of the slow, may carry its own liabilities and inherent consequences, less obvious than engagements with more immediate fast memory. As an ethical stance, “taking things slow” should always include consideration for those whose time may not count, is running out or has not yet come.

Language and terminology

The use of language must enable engagement, not hamper or divert debate and dialogue. Terminology may change and develop over time due to a changing context and the working out of suitable processes. Part of the researcher’s responsibility is to work with changing terms and raise awareness when new terminology might be needed or when other terms become out-dated. Language is not neutral, and part of our research processes can be to examine changing practices and how communities can be affected by these changes.

Commitment to the future:

Dealing with the past is generational work, which impacts future generations and societies. While working with slow memory is a critical practice, it must also identify and uphold radical hope.

  1. These points are based in part on the ethical principles guiding the organization Healing Through Remembering’s narrative work. For their complete 2013 guidelines to design storytelling programmes, see https://healingthroughremembering.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Core-Values-and-Principles_2013-1.pdf
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