Conference Report – Working Group 3: “Transformation of Politics”

Conference Report – Working Group 3: “Transformation of Politics”

Slow Memory General Meeting, June 6-10, 2022 

Portland, UK

Eleven members representing eleven countries met in-person in Portland and had three days of lively discussions about the concept of slow memory, the approach to politics, and the nature and direction of transformation we aim to achieve. 

The overall purpose of the meeting was to debate the slow memory concept, find shared interests and potential areas of collaboration that would move towards the overall aim of the action – to transform memory politics in response to changing forms of governance. However hard it is to summarize the diversity of insights and ideas expressed, here are some propositions that came out of the discussion: 

  • A consensus appeared to move the usual focus on memory politics from the study of history wars, memory struggles and uses of the past to putting our attention on more routinized actions (and in so doing slow and structural), looking for political actors on an everyday basis and regular administration as a way to grasp the structure of the contemporary government of memory and in doing so to be able to understand how to transform them. 

  • Three potential approaches to relationship of memory and politics were proposed: to pay attention to the impact of the contemporary tools of government (such as digitalization or images); to focus on the scales of government (from federalism to decentralization, from the state to the cities); to focus on the relationship between memory and ideology, thought of as political cognitive structure in itself.

  • In a recognition that urban planning projects interlink change and permanence, it was proposed that slow memory and politics might be most fruitfully studied at the scale of the city. In this respect, the following questions were raised: How storytelling and oral history has become integrate part of urban development? How memory is instrumentalized in policy making in this field?

  • Contested monuments or, more broadly, contested urban sites, appeared as a potential focus that united several group members and provided a way to study the relationship between slow memory and politics. Such sites could be considered as platforms of dissent but also as a point of departure from where grasp the administration, governmentalization and structure involved in the management of memory at cities level.  This was recognized as an interesting point of entry because of the clashing temporalities it involves: short term mobilization of long-term issues; the change of the monument and the very idea of it which imply a permanent symbolic situation. This clash of temporalities enables us to grasp memory from an administrative perspective.

Overall, many members recognized that it is hard to separate politics from other areas of the Action, such as work, welfare, environment or conflict, therefore the group’s initiative most likely will touch upon and be useful for other working groups of the action. One initiative that the group decided to work on was development of methodological tools that might be used by all action members across the diversity of countries they come from.  Two such tools were suggested:

  • A short list of questions which could be used by all the members of the action in order to make short interviews with politicians about their ordinary views to memory as political topic. This might include narrative or visual format. For example, respondents might be asked to draw their own mental mapping of statues in their neighborhood or to provide images that express their view of a city, memory, memorials, and political participation, triggering stories about city.   

  • A grid enabling each action participant to look at cities’ organigrams, administrations structures and elected bodies’ organization in order to map the administration of memory at the scale of the city. This mapping might also involve administrative and political actors actually involved in the management of contested monuments issue in the recent past.

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