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Call for Papers: Memory and the City

Call for Papers: Memory and the City


Gruia Badescu, University of Konstanz
Maija Spurina, Latvian Academy of Culture
Christian Wicke, Utrecht University

Cities have been studied as arenas of diverse memory politics, as well as palimpsests where long-term political and social changes can be uncovered through the purposeful illumination of multiple layers of memory (Huyssen 2003). Urban life has been long associated with change and dynamism and the city has been represented as the epitome of modernity. Yet, slow memory perspectives (Wüstenberg 2022) would suggest studying the city not primarily as a space of accelerated time, but also as a space where slow transitions matter, transitions that perhaps are more difficult to grasp in Memory Studies than ruptures or specific events. In this special issue, we propose to focus on cities as epicenters of acceleration through the lens of slow memory, arguing that cities are both materializations and negotiation of slow memory processes.

The slow memory lens on cities is timely; and so is the urban lens on slow memory. It has been recognized recently that memory studies as a field have been focused on capturing specific events (Wagner-Pacifici 2016) that epitomize sudden changes, ruptures, and discontinuities.  Far more meaningful social transformations that cannot be pinned down to a certain date or specific site but develop incrementally over a long period are left out of scholarly and commemorative attention (Wüstenberg 2022). While some of these slow transformations are of global or panregional significance, such as climate change, the creeping rise of authoritarianism the transformation of communication, others are very much grounded in the urban – such as deindustrialization or gentrification. But, on whatever scale, these slow transformations have a significant impact on human lives and experiences, perhaps more so than specific historical events typically brought to public attention via monuments, commemorative rites, and national dates for celebration or mourning. As a result, public commemorative initiatives, sites, and rites are often met with public indifference (Gensburger 2020), whereas, the changes that truly matter lack theorization and are left out of the public discourse, and are, therefore, much harder to be put on the political agenda. This short mnemonic attention span of politicians, memory scholars, memory practitioners, and society at large should be viewed in the context of the general acceleration of technological development, social change, and pace of life (Rosa 2013). In reaction to this acceleration (factual and/or experienced), we witness the rise of initiatives to slow down – to pay attention to slow violence (Nixon 2011), to practice slow science (Stengers 2018) or slow food, to slow digitization (Prescott & Hughes 2018), or to design slow cities (Knox 2005). In a similar spirit, we follow the call for a conceptual and methodological shift to slow memory (Wüstenberg 2022) with a particular focus on the cityscape.

We wish to study urban areas as more but stages or arenas of memory politics. We are interested in contributions from a variety of disciplines – history, sociology, anthropology, geography, urban studies, cultural studies, architecture and planning,  literary studies, and others – that would embrace, develop, and enrich the notion of slow memory by demonstrating how urban environments contain memories of past social and political realities, traces of gradual shifts and incremental changes that often remain unnoticed, how silent memories are or can be surfaced, or how different memories are entangled and embedded in the urban landscape. 

For this special issue, we invite papers addressing three main themes. First,  one objective of this special issue is to examine such relatively slow transformations in the urban sphere and to discuss how these have affected historical cultures and especially memory politics over time. Such processes may comprise, for example, suburbanization, deindustrialization, migration/emigration, or climate change. Second, cities produce their own agents, such as planners, bureaucrats, heritage organizations, city museums, and multiple other organizations that shape local memory politics. We thus invite papers examining institutional perspectives into (slow) memory politics in the city. Third, when we discuss the city as an agent in memory politics, there is another aspect that is key to recent research: the agency of the built environment itself, examined through frameworks such as Actor-Network-Theory (ANT), affect theory and other non-human focused research in in the environmental humanities. Consequently, a third direction shall complement the human actors focus, interrogating how physical changes of the city affect its own memoryscape and memory politics.

The publication shall identify the city as an agent in the memory politics of relatively slow transitory processes. Building on these three main areas of interest, papers might also involve examining public commemorative objects (such as monuments, memorials, gravestones, or historical buildings) that might be neglected or reworked over time and have accumulated layers of meaning that, if read closely and daylighted, can provide an insight into a long-term change.  Or these can be traces of the past left untouched and neglected, scars left from previous social and political structures, like neglected ruins, an empty plinth of a removed monument, or an advertisement for a closed-down local business. It might also involve a close look at the city infrastructure, its shape, and its symbolic representations (official and/or used in everyday communication), such as the grid of streets or city parks and their names that might change with gentrification or changing political regimes, but that live on in everyday practice and communication. 

If you are interested in this call, please send your abstract (200-300 words) to Maija Spurina, by July 1, 2024. 


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