Historical lessons, individual instrument or social constraint? Exploring the influence of collective memory on international conflict discourses

Project: Research

Project Details


This project aims at exploring empirical links between collective memory and discursive uses of historical lessons in debates on armed conflict. IR scholars are increasingly interested in how political actors construct analytical knowledge and normative interpretations during international crises. During the wars in Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan, debates on lessons from the past were crucially linked to conflicting interpretations on contemporary crisis management. But how do decision-makers choose lessons from history? Established IR approaches see the use of history by political leaders as a result of their individual cognitive capabilities and rhetorical interests. At the same time, memory scholars argue that the collective transmission and reconstruction of past events defines what individual actors see as “relevant” lessons from the past. This project suggests to explore the socializing impact of collective memory on international conflict discourses through two principal methods of enquiry. First, a corpus consisting of media publications and parliamentary debates from France, Germany, and the US, will enable a semi-automatic content analysis that enables to detect systematic patterns of uses of historical lessons in different national and temporal contexts. 3 indicators will be constructed for this: cross-national coherence, horizontal coherence (across different groups of discourse actors), and diachronic coherence. Second, a semi-open survey among political officials of the three case-countries will deliver triangulation data and possibly uncover influences of collective memory otherwise “hidden” from public debates. Thus, this research will provide pioneering results both in terms of a systematic, comparative approach to exploring the impact of collective memory on international conflict discourses, and in terms of quantifiable “hard data” on the ways the remembered past of Western societies shapes their interpretation of today’s conflicts.
Short titlecollective memory and conflict discourse
Effective start/end date1/10/1530/09/18


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