Transnational memory

> Par Rigney, Ann
   Utrecht University
> Published on : 21.04.2015

The term “transnational memory” refers to an analytic lens, emerging in recent years out of a larger critique of methodological nationalism, that investigates the movements and entanglements of collective memory across and outside the borders of nation-states (Wimmer & Glick Schiller 2002; Vertovec 2009; Quayson & Daswani 2013; De Cesari & Rigney 2014). Starting point is the observation that stories migrate through the media as well as through individuals (Erll 2011); that these movements lead to the multi-sited emergence of new perspectives on the past; and that this in turn brings the possibility of affiliations between hitherto unrelated actors (Landsberg 2004; Assmann 2014). Transnational memory studies aims to establish a broader archive of memory practices. It develops new ways of conceptualizing memory that are better fitted to a world of advanced globalization, regional integration, mass migration, and of new communication technologies that are radically changing traditional calibrations of distance and proximity.

The “transnational” takes as its point of departure that the nation-state (with its presumed congruence between culture, territory, state) is not the only framework within which memories are produced, preserved, and transmitted. It recognizes that national institutions continue to play an important role in the promotion of particular narratives, but that they do so increasingly within a complex and dynamic field in which the movements of culture (stories, images and ideas carried by media) and state borders are not co-terminous and are increasingly at odds. More than the related term “transcultural” (Crownshaw 2013; Bond & Rapson 2014), then, the term “transnational” offers a framework for an analysis of the interactions as well as tensions between the mobility of memory as culture, on the one hand, and social formations and the workings of power, on the other. It allows for an examination of the “flow” of memory as well as of the “blockages” that occur along the fault lines (of class, religion,  nationality) that mark the limits of solidarity. A key concern accordingly is with the points of articulation between narratives and, through them, between hitherto unconnected communities of memory.

Because the transnational approach extends the scale on which the production and reproduction of memory narratives is observed, it shares points of overlap with recent studies that emphasize the “global” level upon which some memories, preeminently that of the Holocaust, operate. However, transnationalism as an analytic perspective opposes any tendency to universalize memory. In the same way, it contests the assumption that globalization involves a unidirectional increase of scale in a seamless and increasingly convergent world. Instead, it supposes a multiscalar world in which memories are formed at multiple levels in not always convergent ways. The intimate, the familial, the local, the urban, the regional, the national, the macro-regional: these are all sites for the production of memory, each offering a different social framework for the sharing of stories and all equally legitimate as a subject of analysis. Indeed, they feed back into each other as well as diffract each other as part of a multilayered and multidirectional dynamic.


Assmann, Aleida.   “Transnational Memories.”  European Review 22.4 (2014): 546-56.

Bond, Lucy and Jessica Rapson, eds., The Transcultural Turn: Interrogating Memory Between and Beyond Borders, Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.

Crownshaw, Rick, ed.  Transcultural Memory (London and New York: Routledge, 2013).

De Cesari, Chiara and Ann Rigney, eds. Transnational Memory: Circulation, Articulation, Scales. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.

Erll, Astrid. “Travelling Memory.” Parallax  17.4 (2011): 4-18.

Landsberg, Alison. Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Quayson, Ato, and Girish Daswani, eds. A Companion to Diaspora and Transnationalism. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013

Vertovec, Steven. Transnationalism. London: Routledge, 2009.

Wimmer, Andreas and Nina Glick Schiller. “Methodological Nationalism and Beyond: Nation-State Building, Migration and the Social Sciences.” Global Networks 2. 4 (2002): 301-34.


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