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Finding the memory in identity: Native American social movements challenging educational institutions

Timothy Brooks Gongaware, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


I explore the role that collective memory plays in the collective identity process of social movements. Movement scholars have suggested that the unity and continuity of a movement should not be taken for granted. However, a language for exploring, describing and understanding how the past is brought forward into the present has not been provided for social movement models. I contend that collective memory processes provide the framework that organizes the past for present use, provides information used in the collective identity process, and aides in the development of unity and continuity. ^ I gathered data in an ethnographic study of two institutionalized Native American social movement organizations challenging educational systems and practices. Specifically I observed and directly participated in group gatherings, events and activities, and interviewed current and past members of the groups. Emerging from an analysis of the data are four central collective memory processes that aided in developing a sense of unity and continuity. ^ The four central processes are collective memory creation, collective memory maintenance, collective memory anchoring and collective memory associating. First, collective memory creation aids movement unity by making the collective memories of recent events that are held by only a small portion of a movement's membership available to be shared by the whole movement. Second, collective memory maintenance aids unity by ensuring that distant memories from the movement's past are carried forward to be shared by current members. Aiding in the continuity, the third process, collective memory anchoring, links the present to past in such a way as the patterns of the past are available to be replicated in the present. Finally, collective memory association aids continuity as it keys the present both to the past and by the past allowing for changes within the movement to occur with a degree of continuity to the patterns shared in the past. ^

Subject Area

Sociology, General|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Gongaware, Timothy Brooks, "Finding the memory in identity: Native American social movements challenging educational institutions" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3009718.