Maurice Halbwachs-On Collective Memory-University of Chicago Press (1992).pdf
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THE HERITAGE OF SOCIOLOGY A Series Edited by Donald N. Levine
Morris Janowitz, Founding Editor
ON COLLECTIVE MEMORY Edited, Translated, and with an Introduction by JO'
LEWIS A. COSER \
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
Chicago and London
Maurice Halbwachs, born in Reims in 1877, became one of the most important proponents of the Durkheimian tradition in the interwar period and, working in France and Germany, wrote many influential sociological texts, including The Causes of Suicide, Population and Society, and The Psychology of Social Classes. He died in Buchenwald shortly before the end of World War II.
Lewis A. Coser is Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the State University of New York, and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Boston College. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 1992 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Published 1992 Printed in the United States of America 01 00 99 98 97 96 95 94 93 92 54321 ISBN (cloth): 0-226-11594-1 ISBN (paper): 0-226-11596-8 Translated from Les cadres sociaux de La memoire, published by Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1952; and from La topographie iegendaire des evangiles en terre sainte: Etude de memoire collective, published by Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1941. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Halbwachs, Maurice, 1877-1945. On collective memory I Maurice Halbwachs : edited, translated, and with anintroduction by Lewis A. Coser. p. cm.-(The Heritage of sociology) translated from Les cadres sociaux de la memoire and from La topographie legendaire des evangiles en terre sainte. Includes index. ISBN 0-226-11594-1 (cloth)-ISBN 0-226-11596-8 (pbk.) 1. Memory-Social aspects. 2. Knowledge, Sociology of. I. Coser, Lewis A., 1913- . II. Title. Ill. Series. BF378.S65H35 1992 306.4'2-dc20 91-47551 CIP
§The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.
With the helpful assistance of Thomas May
Introduction: Maurice Halbwachs
1877-1945 Maurice Halbwachs was arguably the most important figure of the second generation of Durkheimians in the interwar years. He not only contributed important papers and books in an amazing variety of sociological research but continued the Durkheimian tradition in a crea~ tive manner. Although Halbwachs was a fairly orthodox Durkheimian, his admiration for Durkheim stimulated him nevertheless to develop his own creativity rather than be stifled by it, as was the case with some other members of the Durkheimian school. He was one of the first French sociologists to perceive the importance of such foreign scholars as Weber, Pareto, Veblen, and Schumpeter, to whom he devoted long scholarly essays, thus helping his French colleagues to overcome their parochial concentration on homegrown intellectual products. As I shall show in some detail later, he was an accomplished statistician, coauthoring among other things an introduction to probability theory. He did statistical studies on such topics as the trend of wages in various national settings and comparative urban and rural suicide rates. He did studies of stratification, human ecology, and urban sociology, to mention but a few topics that attracted his ever curious mind. Large samples of these writings were translated into English and are accessible to American readers. Halbwachs's work in the sociology of knowledge, however-in my estimation his most important contribution to sociological thoughtmostly has not been available in English. I am encouraged in my high opinion of his work in this field by the fact that it coincides with Halbwachs's own view of himself. In an 1934 interview with the American sociologist Earle E. Eubank, Halbwachs reportedly called The Social Frameworks of Memory "so far my most important work." 1 Halbwachs wrote two other contributions to the sociology of 1. Dirk Kaesler, Soziologische Abenteuer (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1985), p.131.
knowledge. One is La topographie legendaire des evangiles en terre sainte, 2 a brilliant study of the spatial infrastructure of the New Testament, in which he examines the part played by pilgrims, crusaders, and others in establishing and changing the topography of the Holy Land. A translation of the conclusions of this work is included in this volume (as is the major part of the book on The Social Frameworks of Memory). The other is The Collective Memory.3 Unfortunately, this posthumous work, in which Halbwachs attempted to deal with some of the objections of critics of his earlier work on the subject, is akin to a skeleton. One may doubt that the author himself would have been willing to publish it in what seems to be an unfinished state. The book nevertheless contains many further developments of Halbwachs's thought in regard to such matters as the relation of space and time to collective memory as well as fruitful definitions and applications of the differences between individual, collective, and historical memory. One must ask what may account for the curious fact that what in my judgment are the less important works of Halbwachs have been translated, whereas the work that he himself considered his best has remained mostly inaccessible to American scholars. One reason seems to be that various sociologists who had an interest in some sub field translated, or caused to be translated, those parts of his work that seemed pertinent to their own. Ecologists or demographers translated the Morphologie sociale under the English title Population and Society, 4 and stratification researchers introduced their colleagues to Halbwachs's pertinent writings in Esquisse d'une psychologie des classes sociales, 5 and other work on stratification, but were not interested in his sociology of knowledge. Historians of sociology, of course, have not neglected Halbwachs, but they have not provided a major study of the whole work in any way comparable to Steven Lukes's monumental study of Emile Durkheim. In addition, the sociology of knowledge has been a kind of stepchild of American sociology until recently. Moreover, the Mannheimian tradition in the sociology of knowledge has preempted the attention of most American scholars while the Durkheimian tradition has been neglected until very recently. Halbwachs believed that the past was mainly known through symbol and ritualism as well as historiography 2. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971). 3. Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, with an introduction by Mary Douglas (New York: Harper-Colophon Books, 1950). 4. Maurice Halbwachs, Population and Society (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960). 5. Maurice Halbwachs, The Psychology of Social Classes (London: Heineman, 1958).
and biography, whereas Mannheim's concerns were limited to the latter elements. This book attempts, in some small way, to begin righting the wrong to Halbwachs's reception in the Anglo-Saxon world by providing translations of the major part of his hitherto untranslated work in the sociology of knowledge and on the roots of collective memory. I shall give a short biography of Halbwachs and a description of his work, including the intellectual context and the social context. The Man Halbwachs was born in Reims in 1877. His family was of CatholicAlsatian origin, but his father, a teacher of German, had left Alsace after its annexation by Germany as a result of the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. Halbwachs was brought'up in a cultivated milieu, liberal in its overall philosophy, devoted to the newly founded Third Republic and, at a later date, ardent in its defense of Captain Dreyfus. The young Halbwachs seems to have been fairly free from generational tendencies to revolt even though he was to become a member of Jean Jaures's reformist Socialist party. Two years after Halbwachs's birth, the family moved to Paris, so that he grew up in the stimulating and exciting world of Parisian intellectuals. The young man was clearly gifted, so that there was no difficulty enrolling him in the prestigious Lycee Henri IV. It so happened that the great philosopher Henri Bergson taught there at the beginning of his illustrious career. This accidental and unplanned encounter determined to no small degree Halbwachs's subsequent development. Under the spell of Bergson, he decided to embark on a career in philosophy. Even though he later changed from philosophy to the study of sociology, his encounter with Bergson was to mark him throughout his life, even though after he came under the influence of Emile Durkheim and his school, he rejected most of Bergson's highly individualistic philosophy. There are many passages in much of Halbwachs's work that show that Bergson was often present in his thought. This preserved him from some of the excesses of a number of Durkheimians who, for example, wanted to replace rather than supplement the study of individual psychology by the new Durkheimian collective psychology. His study of memory, for example, while doggedly holding up the banner of collective or social psychology, left some trace to individual psychology. His study of suicide, to give another example, while conceived as a vindication of Durkheim's views by means of data unavailable to Durkheim, nevertheless examined not only collective but also individual aspects. In addition to his early immersion in the world of Bergson's individualistic elan vital,
one has the impression that Halbwachs was generally a more conciliatory figure than was Durkheim. The latter saw himself as the embattled prophet of a new dawn in the social sciences and valued nothing more dearly than a polemical battle with his individualistic contemporaries. Halbwachs, being a member of a second generation, entered into an arena that had already been smoothed out, after sociology was accorded a grudging acceptance by at least some of the major figures in history and social philosophy. Halbwachs was not a fighter temperamentally and was destined to work in a milieu that provided a premium to conciliators rather than to unarmed prophets. Upon graduation from the lycee, Halbwachs had no difficulty passing the rigorous entrance exams of the Ecole normale superieure, the elitist and extremely competitive crown of the French educational system, which had also been the alma mater of Durkheim. The sympathies of most students and professors at the school were decidedly on the Left. The school was, for example, one of the first strongholds of the Dreyfusard cause. Here the young Halbwachs became a lifelong reformist socialist in the tradition of Jean Jaures. After graduating from the school in philosophy, Halbwachs taught for a number of years, as was the custom, in a number of provincial lycees. Perhaps more important for his later intellectual development was that in 1904 he obtained a position as lecturer at the University of Gottingen, one of the stars of the German intellectual firmament, to work on hitherto unpublished manuscripts of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. He was part of the Franco-German team to prepare a new international collected works of the great German philosopher. His first book, a study of Leibniz, published in 1907, was still written under the spell of Bergson. As we have seen, Halbwachs became a socialist at an early age but he was not a radical militant follower of the socialist movement. Rather, he was attracted by the reformist zeal of Eduard Bernstein. Yet it is worthwhile to record an incident of Halbwachs's life in Germany that showed that the mild-mannered Halbwachs would not always limit himself to the spirit of academe. In Berlin in 1911, after about three months of his fellowship term for gathering material for his thesis, and acting in his capacity as a foreign correspondent for the socialist journal Humanite, he published an article describing the brutality of the Berlin police at a socialist demonstration. The Prussian authorities got hold of the article and gave the imprudent lecturer one week to leave Prussia. He had to complete his fellowship work in Vienna. Humanite published a bitter piece by the German left-socialist leader Karl Liebknecht about Halbwachs's expulsion. Halbwachs wrote a long
memorandum about this affair many years later, in fact shortly before his death, indicating that the affair had had a major impact on his subsequent life. When his love affair with the work of Bergson came to an end, Halbwachs not only decided to switch from an individualistic Bergsonian stance to a Durkheimian collectivist view, but also left philosophy altogether to devote himself to the newly emergent field of sociology. He went to school once more in Paris and acqll:ired a doctoral degree in law, as well as a doctorat es lettres, which required two theses in the French academic system. All three theses were published. One, in 1911, dealt with expropriations and real-estate prices in Paris in the last part of the nineteenth century. In 1912 and 1913 respectively there appeared his law thesis on the working class and its living standards, and an essay on the theory of homme moyen by the great Belgian statistician Fran