Forget “Мemory”? Critical Insights on Critical Memory Studies

What is the use of “memory” as a concept and an object of study when it comes to reflect on the right to the city and to challenge social inequalities? In this presentation I offer an overview of twenty years of critical memory studies’ contribution to the deconstruction of dominant narratives and the foregrounding of alternative collective heritage projects. “Counter memory”,“difficult memories”, “post memory”, “cultural genocide” — notions have proliferated at the intersection of academic and policy worlds, which have sought to make space for protest and resistance in fights over symbolic resources within the discursive and redistributive systems of contemporary societies. I argue that, as radical as it may strive to be, the critical memory project is predicated on a concept and practice of liberal politics that is undergoing an irresistible process of entropy. The institutional decline of “rights” globally, the rise of realism in international relations, the generalization of authoritarianism and war across the world, calls for a radical revision of the memory agenda.
What is “memory” for when normative frameworks have left place to pure might and bare life? I propose that two uses of the agenda remain relevant. One is a “legacy” concept of purely strategic value that can still be mobilized in local struggles where the mediation of progressive and radical movements can have an impact on politics via cultural entrepreneurs. The other memory concept is the anthropological notion of memory as transmission and practice. Although older and more general, this latter notion provides us with an experimental ground on which imaginations of sustainable futures can unfold, away from nostalgia and from the aporias of national-state legacies. This requires a conversion of the past-oriented problematique of memory into a question of future-oriented inscription.