Memory is what guides our everyday actions: it forms our history, shapes our present, and projects us toward a new future. In the aftermath of trauma, memory serves as an important political tool used to rebuild society. Both individual and communal narratives emerge through the retelling of history and contrasting versions of the same occurrences battle one another to be heard. As time passes and the infliction of trauma recedes into the past, these stories become condensed, forming part of a cultural narrative that is easily disseminated from one person to another.
From where does this collective narrative come then? What is told and what is forgotten, or perhaps kept private, from the collective memory of an event? What purpose does memory serve for those who suffered from such atrocities? How is memory used to connect the past to the present? These are questions that I address in relation Argentina’s collective memory of its traumatic past inflicted by the last military dictatorship.
In this study I examine the post-generation’s collective memory of the history of the Argentine dictatorship that ruled from 1976 until 1983. This period marked a time of violent political oppression in this country’s history. The military-led dictatorship targeted “subversive” elements of society such as young intellectuals and activists who opposed the government. During these seven years, approximately 30,000 people disappeared, assumed to have been tortured and killed. Although democracy has been in place for over 30 years since the fall of the dictatorship, the trauma inflicted by this violent period still remains prominent in the minds of many Argentines.
This research was conducted in Rosario, Argentina, where I interviewed 10 university students between the ages of 20 to 26 in order to learn their impression of what happened during this historical time period. Interview questions were designed to find out each student’s general knowledge of the event, where their information came from, and what factors affected how they perceived and retold the event.
The results revealed that the younger generations’ narration of this time period relies strongly upon patterns that appeal to collective narration, their individual political views, and readily available slogans. Each of the interviewees followed a loose structure of revealing both general and personal information about this time, showing that communal memory is inevitably both personal and public. Each student chose to focus on a specific aspect of what occurred during this time, which often aligned with their personal interests. Several phrases appeared across multiple interviews, revealing that the dialogue of the dictatorship’s effects has been almost rotely repeated over time.
Most of these stories, although they may not each follow the same narrative, emerge from a collective, symbolic effort to resist future authoritarian regimes. Throughout the interviews, I discovered that each narrative revealed the interviewee’s personal political views. Due to the politicization of each memory narrative, I argue that we must study not individuals’ motives for remembering, but rather their motives for narrating history in a specific way. Collective memory cannot be categorized as a single story that references a distinct set of facts, but rather must be viewed as varying and conflicting stories that come together to create a political dialogue that reflects society’s power struggles.
The preceding is an abstract from a piece selected for the 2014 Latin American Social and Public Policy Conference to be held at the University of Pittsburgh Friday, March 21-Saturday, March 22 featuring a keynote address by Greg Grandin. Anyone interested at attending the conference should go here.