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Related Topics
Our Faithfulness to the PastReview - Our Faithfulness to the Past
The Ethics and Politics of Memory
by Sue Campbell, Christine M. Koggel,Rockney Jacobsen (Editors)
Oxford University Press, 2014
Review by Roxana Akhbari
Aug 18th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 34)

Christine M. Koggel and Rockney Jacobsen's recent editorial work brings together a valuable selection of Sue Campbell's essays on the ethics, politics, and epistemology of remembering (three of which being published for the first time). In these essays, Campbell raises a number of challenging questions about memory and points towards promising directions for understanding remembering as consisting of complex relational cognitive activities. The two overall themes that make this book a distinguished philosophical contribution to the interdisciplinary study of memory are Campbell's carefully argued points of emphasis on the inherently (socially) embedded nature of recollection and the need for theorizing successful remembering. It is important to note that these two themes are somewhat incompatible within the framework of available psychological models of memory. However, by presenting these themes as interrelated, Campbell commits herself to going beyond the project of which she is vigorously critical, namely the project of proposing a scientific model for memory. So, paying close attention to the main arguments Campbell offers for enhancing these two themes is a helpful way of getting the interesting details of her account of memory in these essays.

In the introduction to these essays, Campbell refers to highlighting the inherently social nature of recollection as "taking the second voice seriously" in memory studies (p.2). She, then, examines this topic in different parts of the book. Most importantly, she brings it out in chapter 1 and chapter 4. In chapter 1, Campbell delineates a dramatic shift in the evolution of scientific models of memory (which is a recurrent subject in other chapters of the book). In her examination of the significant shift from the archival (inherited from John Locke) to the reconstructive model of memory (e.g., the model offered by Elizabeth Loftus and Daniel Schacter), she points out the insights and the shortcomings of each model. Although Campbell acknowledges that unlike the archival model, the reconstructive model presents a sophisticated psychological picture of remembering by foregrounding the "causal complexity" of memory activities (p.16), she takes issue with the association of the subjective dimension of remembering and memory distortions in the reconstructive model. Noting this problematic association, she recommends that these two models should be regarded as "complex dimensions of memory activities" rather than "competing models of mental processes" (p.24). Instead of offering a psychological model for recollection as a kind of mental process, Campbell sets the stage for an alternative account of memory that brings together the archival and the reconstructive values by conceiving of remembering as an "inherently sociable activity" with "embodied and material" dimensions (p.27).

Likewise, in chapter 4, she underlines the relational or conversational nature of recollection by theorizing solidarity as the constitutive role the audience of memory performances play in creating space for community membership. More specifically, she uses Diane Taylor's performance theory for "understanding how we participate in others' experience of the past" (p.71). In doing so, Campbell examines the ways in which sharing past memories with others reflects present needs for challenging dominant views of the past. Drawing upon the writings of David Middleton and Seteven Brown on social psychology and referring to her own experience of attending a 2005 theatre forum in Halifax, Campbell explores possibilities of the active engagement of the audience in memory performances even between individuals who may not share a past with each other. The moral significance of this kind of performative engagement with shared social memories, she argues, is that of forming relations of solidarity.

With regard to the topic of the embedded nature of memory, it is important to note the constitutive role Campbell's analysis of Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (IRS TRC) plays in the overall picture of memory she offers.

The other main objective of this selection of essays, namely offering a theory for successful remembering, is mostly discussed in chapter 2 and chapter 3. In these chapters, Campbell presents a careful examination of the roots of the theoretical suspicion about truth in canonical studies of memory and proposes an account of accurate remembering in response to this suspicion. Her project in these chapters is centred on analyzing the philosophical notions of truth, accuracy, and integrity with regard to memory. Tracing the destructive skepticism about faithful memory in False Memory Debates in the 80s and 90s (p.51), she explains away the constructed incompatibility of truth and interpretability of memories, in chapter 3. In particular, she makes a strong case for the criticism that Paula Reavey and Steven Brown present to the forensic view of the self with the implied requirement of fixed/stable meaning for good remembering. Campbell enriches Reavey and Brown's criticism by drawing upon Michael Lynch's account of truth in interpretation and self-reflection. In chapter 2, on the other hand, Campbell presents a more positive account of faithful remembering by analyzing it in terms of accuracy and integrity. Following the lead of Adam Morton's account of "emotional accuracy" (p. 35), Campbell regards remembering as accurate insofar as it captures our shifting experience of the past in ways that track the significance of the past to our present needs and knowledge. She, then, links faithful remembering to integrity as a personal and social (and not just personal) virtue.

Apart from these two main themes, Campbell's essays make important contributions to other key philosophical topics such as conceptualizations of race and the issue of political time. Regarding race conceptualizations, in Chapter 6, Campbell returns to the notion of solidarity and examines affective dimensions of taking responsibility as members of collectives that have historically harmed other social groups (p.115). She takes issue with sympathy-based accounts of collective responsibility that overemphasize the moral importance of disaffiliating with harming groups. In the context of criticizing cultural whiteness, she argues that standing in solidarity with people of colour requires that white people take collective responsibility through identifying (rather than disaffiliating) with their white culture. This kind of taking responsibility on the part of white subjects, she suggests, involves making oneself answerable for the ways the white subjects have been shaped. The notion of political time, on the other hand, is brought out in Chapter 5. In particular, Campbell challenges "methodological essentialism" (p.105) as manifested in some Western models of identity formation that position people as deflective rememberers. She, then, focuses on the creation of the kinds of remembereres in IRS and the role the notion of time has played in this colonial process. What is distinctive about the assimilation process in IRS is the divide white settlers managed to create between native children and native Elders. Through IRS, the settlers set "the children's cultural clock" (p.101) from the savage seasonal round to the daily precision required by the industrial order. Elders, however, were represented as unreliable rememberers, "unfit for transformation" required by the modern industrial time (ibid). Healing from this specific kind of colonization, Campbell recommends, takes "reparational remembering": a kind of narrative co-constitution of identity that requires sharing time with family members and peers.

Finally, Campbell's essays remarkably engage a broad range of scholars from disciplines other than philosophy by explaining the urgent nature of the need for prioritizing relational approaches to the study of memory in countries with "stable democracy", such as Canada. In doing so, Campbell criticizes Canadian liberalism that seeks to close off discussions of TRC by separating the past from the present (p.189).

 

© 2015 Roxana Akhbari

 

Roxana Akhbari is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Alberta.


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