Review Paper: Doing Memory, Doing Identity; Politics of the Everyday Contemporary Global Communities.

by Michael Anranter

Waldgeister, Imagined Beings
by Michael Anranter

As I recently had to prepare for a new course at university, I read an article which deals with the construction of imaginations and the impact of single and collective memory.

While the use of signs and specific tools in a socio-cultural and historical context had been broadly discussed in the anthropological context, there aren’t that many who elaborate on contemporary techniques in the context of remembering and forgetting. In the paper, published in 2010, Kontopodis and Matera take a critical stance at recent fieldworks and theorization of day-to-day memory practices.

According to the paper internet platforms and techniques as e-mailing play an active role in remembering and forgetting. The distribution of mnemonic codes creates interrelations between the perception of the past and the future. Keeping in mind concepts of doing which have been brought into discussion throughout the performative turn, the author’s assume that a specific enactment of the past consequently influences the imagination of the future. According to different levels of emotions it can be stated, that resources of identities are partly invented and not just responsible for the creation of imagined communities (see Anderson: 1983) but also for imagined individuals.

These assumptions question conceptualizations of societies and cultures as homogenous groups, but also demand studies on multiplicity, fragmentation and internal contradictions. Furthermore this approach has an impact on ethnographic fieldwork. Tonkin analyzed temporalities of the ethnographic writing and the layers of interpretation that mediate between a fieldwork event and its reviews, emphasizing the notion of subjectivity in representing emotions. (see Tonkin, in: Kontopodis/Matera :2010, p.5)

We cannot distinguish whether memory generates the characters or community, or if identity is the principle of how memories work. Analyzing different fieldworks leads the author’s to the conclusion that the (de-)construction of identities and imaginations can be influenced by actors. ”When memory is the strongest factor of identity in a social context we find that there are routes members must follow in order to be identical.” (Kontopodis/Matera :2010, p.6) Bearing in mind the idea of opinion leaders first elaborated by the sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, it may be argued, that the construction of identities is therefore close to power relations.

Also some traditional features (gifts, traditions,…) which changed or lost their meaning over the intervening years had been identified as a result to the breakdown of field work experiences. An immediate impact on the construction of imaginations can be presumed: “To construct our own life by imagination means – in a temporal dimension – getting rid of the past, and perceived as a predicament of the present, and embracing a fancy idea of the future in which we could realize our imagined identity”. (Kontopodis/Matera :2010, p.7) While the paper is constructed very well, at this stage it remains unclear on the differences between individual and collective imaginations. Describing the desire of an elsewhere could be significant to the structure of today’s society, but also for the description of f.e. integration of the single person.

Mimetic is often constructed throughout consumer goods, manners of dressing, but also rational visions of the world. Even though some of people imaginations can be destroyed very easily, a high cultural traffic and new communication technologies influence the structure of imaginary communities. Assuming that migration and mass communication are a main power behind identity construction the power of imaginations is expected to increase in a global community. But that’s once more a consequence for communities as well as individuals and should therefore have a lasting influence on further anthropological fieldworks.


Kontopodis, M.; Matera, V. (2010) “Abstract: Doing Memory, Doing Identity; Politics of the Everyday Contemporary Global Communities.“, in: Outlines – Critical Practice Studies, No. 2

Anderson, Benedict; (1983): “Imagined Communities”, Verso Books, London/ New York.


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