Ways Memory Will Let You Down


Image: Bias Memories.......


Memories can misbehave and let us down in 4 major ways and ultimately let people down:

  • Memory can help continue or reignite violence

  • Memory is an obstacle for IDP return

  • It can be an obstacle to social cohesion

  • Easily manipulated by powerful social figures, media etc.

  • A powerful driver for Hatred and Othering

  • Attachments to Guilt and Fear

4 Major fragilities of Memory


Memory is an impressive mental system that receives a huge amount of information, retains it and makes it available to us when required. Memory is so significant to us, that without it, we would struggle to develop an identity, a sense of belonging , and wouldn’t have the ability to move on from the first things experienced, which would render us fundamentally disoriented and vulnerable.


In everyday life, almost all activities in some way deal with memory. It is only through the capacity of memory that we can relate to different events, experiences, conditions, people and objects. It is needed in developing social relationships, mastering cognitive capabilities and solving various problems.


Memories however, can misbehave and let us down in 4 major ways:


It is very important we recognize the risk of; Misattribution: the assigning of a memory to the wrong source; mistaking fantasy for reality, or incorrectly remembering that a friend told you a bit of trivia that you actually read about in the newspaper- more common than people think, Suggestibility (memories that are implanted as a result of leading questions, comments or suggestions when a person is trying to call up a past experience), Bias (stereotypical bias influence memories and perceptions in the social world – experience with different groups of people leads to the development of stereotypes that capture their general properties but can spawn inaccurate and unwarranted judgments about individuals) and Persistence( which involves repeated recall of disturbing information or events that we would prefer to banish from our minds altogether; remembering what we cannot forget, even though we wish that we could).


Memory is not passive like a PC or video camera, which reproduces the information in its original context, but reflective and susceptible to a range of influences. It is malleable; new events or information can be added, it can change our perceptions and what we think we remember about past events, resulting in subtle errors and misrepresentations. There are four ways that are particularly important to recognise whilst working with post conflict communities:


1. Suggestibility refers to the way that memories are susceptible manipulation and change as a result of leading questions, comments or suggestions when a person is trying to call up a past-experience.

2. Misattribution, which means to assign a memory to the wrong source; mistaking fantasy for reality, or incorrectly remembering that a friend told you a bit of trivia that you actually read about in the newspaper.

3. Persistence: which means the repeated recall of disturbing information or events that we would prefer to banish from our minds altogether; remembering what we cannot forget, even though we wish that we could.

4. Bias, which refers to the way our current knowledge and beliefs alter how we remember our past. Sometimes in the process of reconstructing our memories we add our feelings, beliefs, or even knowledge we acquired after the event (Consistency biases) and ‘Stereotypical biases’ which influences our memories and perceptions in the social world – experience with different groups of people leads to the development of stereotypes that capture their general properties, but can spawn inaccurate and unwarranted judgments about individuals



Research Recommendations:


Develop a memories of violence international programme that consolidates information, authenticates and records narrative whilst developing methods of recognition and dissemination that helps build a recognised and valid representation of past atrocities’ which can be trusted and accessed by local communities and government alike.


Explore nonintrusive designs of ‘Memory Marketing’ as points of recognition throughout an urban and rural context which will help acknowledge and recognize the atrocities suffered in these areas.


Engage and advise local and national government as to the importance of everyday collective memories of violence and their role in supporting a sustainable peace accord


Develop and promote a balanced approach to memorialisation that takes into account the traditional top-down approaches from government and international peacebuilding organisations such as UNESCO and provide an authentic balance using bottom up, every day processes of recognition and acknowledgement.


Engage an approach to memory awareness, which can be adopted and used in everyday peacebuilding practice and protocol. An approach that highlights, the risks involved, the sensitivity required and reasons why memories are politically sensitive and socially impactful


Develop a nationwide mapping exercise of socially important everyday places and spaces which are imbued with memories of violence throughout post conflict states


Develop an approach to the ‘active and reactive’ archiving of individual and collective memories of violence in collaboration with international, local and governments actors. Sourcing and acknowledging categories such as:


i. Gender related memories

ii. The importance of silence and the different ways in which memories of violence are processes by the victim and perpetrator.

iii. IDP Memories

iv. Stayee Memories

v. Returnee Memories

vi. Refugee Memories of Violence

vii. Diaspora

viii. International Organizations

ix. Non Governmental Organizations

x. Youth

xi. Memories of 2003


Promote and expand upon the positive aspects attributed to the places and spaces which have significant social meaning and reflect local memories of violence.


Develop locally accessible, educational material highlighting the fragility of memory.


Provide guidance in memorialization for Government and NGOs


Develop methods of working with redeveloping spaces and places with memories of violence. A toolkit of approaches which allows the site’s narrative of violence to be read whilst contributing positively to the community’s reconstruction. Typically, the choices have been to remove the building completely, recondition it and reuse it, make it a museum or leave it to routinization as a grizzly reminder. However, there are other method to take into consideration such as layering the building’s narrative, building new from the old, keeping parts of the existing struct and building it into the new.

F.M.H..... MLitt Peace & Conflict, Msc Architectural Conservation BA (Hons) Int. Architecture; MCSD, PgC TLHE
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