(MEM2) Remember the Bad Times: Collective Memory and Crisis

Thursday Jun 20 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
Wong Building - WONG 1030

Session Code: MEM2
Session Format: Paper Presentations
Session Language: English, French
Research Cluster Affiliation: Not Applicable
Session Categories: Bilingual, In-person Session

In a world rife with inequity, death, and loss, it is easy to forget that the concept of crisis is not new, and that the sociological impacts of “crisis” events cut across time and memory. Communities, collectives and persons who have struggled with, responded to, and resisted the catastrophes, disasters, and atrocities of the past lay the groundwork for how we address such phenomena today. These histories offer insights into what it means to live through a crisis and the realities of death and unlivability, as well as the systems of domination that shape them. Documenting crises in real-time and recalling them later can be challenging, especially within a post-crisis present. Collective memory thus becomes a crucial lens for those studying crises and atrocities. In dialogue with this session, a subsequent session on Methods, Ethics, and Affects in Memory Studies will explore methodological and ethical considerations in memory studies. Tags: Politics, Race and Ethnicity, Social Movements, Violence

Organizers: Jade Da Costa, University of Guelph, Harmata Aboubakar, University of Toronto, Marie-Lise Drapeau-Bisson, Carleton University, Sophie Marois, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto; Chair: Harmata Aboubakar, University of Toronto


Megan Ingram, Queen's University

patient: megan ingram: Counterarchiving Medical Records and Resisting Institutional Memory

Archival records of disabled bodies are partial, fragmented, and in many ways disabled themselves, constituting a legacy of exclusion within memory spaces. Disabled memory is often archived through the limited scope of medical and institutional records (Brilmeyer 2020). Crucially, medical records have often been isolated from other archival spaces, kept siloed within the bureaucratic confines of the ‘medical archive’, often situated in hospitals or other inaccessible institutional spaces. What medical records exist beyond these spaces are often those of the “exceptional” patient, those bodies deemed abnormal enough to warrant consideration from an outside public or source. While these bodies are often those that are disabled in some way, considered exceptional or “freakish” due to their visual, mobility, or psychological differences, such bodies are also often queer–and sometimes the difference in the clinical or public imaginary is non-existent. To engage with the history of the medical record and disabled bodies through the lens of the queer archive is to explore the ways that many records of our queer ancestors only exist in their medical records: in the bloodwork done as they battled HIV/AIDS, in the strange ways that psychiatrists describe our queerness, and in the diagnoses of ‘transexualism’ or ‘gender identity disorder.’ These records are fraught. On the one hand, they provide concrete evidence of these queer ancestors, the ways that we have continued to persist despite the oppression of the medical industrial complex and rampant homophobia, transphobia, and these system’s underlying basis in white supremacy and ableism. On the other hand, they provide an incredibly narrow understanding of who these people were, with whole, expansive lives often reduced to blood tests, diagnostic labels, and an image or two of disparate body parts. How do we grapple with both the beauty of ongoing memory contained in these records, and their absolute inadequacy in archiving the legacy of human existence? Building from a queer, feminist, and disabled lens, as well as Springgay et al’s (2020) conceptualization of counter-archiving, this body of work therefore seeks to read disability into the queer archives, and read queerness into medical records. This is done through work that critically intervenes on the artist’s own medical records to note how they construct her own queer and disabled body and the limits or failures of these records. This is achieved through an experimental autobiographical documentary work entitled patient: megan ingram, that seeks to create a counterarchive of embodied experience. The work explores how the author’s own queer and disabled body has been archived, and what it means for experiences to remain, in some ways, unarchivable. It opens up medical records and imaging as information and materials not typically engaged with by the public, and encourages reading into these unconventional mediums to engage with deep listening (Rangan 2020) of the bodily archive. The work, while artistic in nature, and foregrounding the author’s lived experience, pulls from scholarship on archive, memory studies, queer theory, and critical disability studies to turn towards histories left unearthed by normative academic scholarship and to pull forward the affective textures of these stories. 

Nikolai Vokuev, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

The war in Ukraine and the Russian public sphere: mobilizing collective memory in cultural journalism

The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war brought about changes in the Russian public sphere. The authorities introduced censorship, de facto criminalizing public anti-war speech and criticism of the political regime. Journalists who remained in the country were forced to adapt to this framework, even to the point of using the word "special military operation" instead of the forbidden word "war," as approved by the authorities. Independent media, both old and newly created by journalists who left the country, focused on fair coverage of Russian military aggression. Changes also affected cultural journalism. Media outlets that continued to operate in Russia, such as the literary website Gorky.media or the magazine Kommersant-Weekend, often began to turn to historical analogies. Thus, stories about anti-fascist artists in Hitlers Germany, Germany after World War II, or the consequences of Japanese militarism became a way to conceptualize the crisis provoked by Putins regime and ways out of it. It is not difficult to see veiled anti-war statements in such articles. However, according to Yuri Saprykin, a regular contributor to Kommersant-Weekend, this is first and foremost one of the few ways, under conditions of censorship and repression, to reflect on what is happening: "This is an attempt to explain to others and to ourselves the point in history at which we find ourselves, an attempt to find support and, perhaps, consolation in the fact that people have already experienced similar situations.” Journalists of these media actualize, first of all, the cultural memory accumulated in narratives about the history of European culture and art. The appeal to these historical analogies implicitly highlights the authoritarian, if not fascist, character of Putins regime. At the same time, the colonial nature of the war it unleashed provoked the infiltration of previously marginalized post- and decolonial discourses into the Russian public sphere. In Russian society, as journalist and anthropologist Elena Srapyan, editor-in-chief of Perito.media, notes, there has been a "sharp decline in the prestige" of Russian identity and a "reversal of the ethnic hierarchy." The website Perito focuses on popularizing and applying postcolonial studies, including to Russian realities. It publishes, among other things, articles analyzing Russian memorial politics, recounting forgotten episodes of the colonial history of the USSR and Russia, and "autoethnographic" accounts of journalists and activists about their identities. In this way, Peritos publications mobilize the collective memory of colonized peoples and the individual memory of members of ethnic minorities. This brings it closer to another new cultural media, the more militant and academic website Beda.media, which tells the stories of peoples colonized by Russia and their resistance. According to the editors of this decolonial media, its main objective is to "map Russian imperialism." Thus, behind these two variants of mobilizing collective memory in cultural media are different intellectual formations and interpretive communities that explain Putins regime and the war in Ukraine in different ways. The tasks of commemoration also differ, ranging from adaptation and consolation to resistance to the regime. Although the discourses described here infiltrate the public sphere not only in the form of articles by journalists and researchers, but also in the form of public lectures and courses, I will focus specifically on the case of cultural journalism. My research is based on an analysis of the publications of the mentioned media and on interviews with its journalists and editors.

La guerre en Ukraine et la sphère publique russe : la mobilisation de la mémoire collective dans le journalisme culturel

Amelia Madueno, York University

Chanting to the Flooded City: Soka Gakkai International, Hurricane Katrina, and Collective Memory

Soka Gakkai, or the Society for the Creation of Value, is a Japanese new religion --a group with modern origins existing along the periphery of a society's dominant religions (McLaughlin, 2018)-- founded in 1930. Soka Gakkai members follow the teachings of Nichiren, a thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhist priest. The organization claims that spiritual enlightenment is inherent in every person and can be awakened by chanting the phrase "nam myōhō renge kyō," En. I take refuge in the Lotus Sutra. During World War II, the Empire of Japan imprisoned Soka Gakkai's founders and top leaders for violating the government's new religious policies. In 1945, Toda was released from prison and began participating in rebuilding efforts across Japan, gathering new members as he travelled. By the mid-1970s, Soka Gakkai had grown into Japan's largest new religion, amassing hundreds of followers in Japan and overseas. On March 15, 1974, over 350 people from across the Gulf South region of the United States convened at the University of New Orleans to meet Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai's recently appointed third president. Members of the Soka Gakkai community in New Orleans consider this visit significant; during the meeting, Ikeda spoke about people's inherent potential to achieve enlightenment and serve as a beacon of hope for others. Addressing the Japanese members in attendance, Ikeda highlighted the importance of participating in and contributing to American society: "Learn English, get a driver's license, and pay your taxes," he said. Ikeda named the group of members who attended this meeting the "Happiness Group" and asked them to plant "seeds of happiness," i.e. spread the teachings of Soka Gakkai across the Gulf South region of the United States. In 1975, a year after visiting New Orleans, Ikeda formally created Soka Gakkai International; while Soka Gakkai operates solely in Japan, SGI is present in 192 countries and territories, accumulating approximately 2.8 million members (Fisker-Nielsen, 2022). In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina --a category five Atlantic hurricane-- landed in New Orleans and flooded 80% of the city, destroying most of its transportation facilities and communications systems. Hurricane Katrina destroyed countless religious buildings; local SGI members, several of them seeking refuge in other states, wondered if their centre had survived the storm. The Soka Gakkai International-USA New Orleans Buddhist Center did, in fact, escape substantial damage. Nevertheless, many of the organization's members lost their homes, vehicles, and businesses. While some members chose to stay and rebuild, others left New Orleans and never returned. In this paper, four SGI-New Orleans members share their memories of Hurricane Katrina. Based on oral history interviews and ethnographic work, this paper focuses on SGI-New Orleans' collective memory of Hurricane Katrina, which is distinctly marked by members' reliance on Ikeda's teachings. I argue that rather than seeking comfort in Nichiren's original work, members used Ikeda's interpretation of it to overcome the emotional devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina. In doing so, SGI-New Orleans members actively contribute to the organization's shift from a Nichiren-based movement to an Ikeda-centric one. Through this case study, I seek to address the role of collective memory within Japanese new religious movements involved in distinct environmental, political, and social crises.