On November 21st our weekly meeting launches memory-work in/with Mind the Gut. You are going to engage with my version of what the memory-work method looks like. In some ways, we will test run the method together before I start using the method to question the curious chat between our gut, brain and psyche next year. I hope you are open to join this experiment with me and see where our collective discussion will take us.
All the best,
This invitation to my colleagues in Microbes on the Mind kicked off two workshops with the method memory-work. The workshop course was a test-run of the memory-work method, an experiment and an engagement with Medical Museion’s exhibition Mind the Gut. I facilitated the workshop days in November 2019 as I around this time prepared my fieldwork based on memory-work. Besides being a perfect opportunity to get feedback on my method, the workshops were also part of sharing our research interests and methods within the Microbes on the Mind group.
Before delving into the workshop course, you might wonder what memory-work is. The method was developed in the 1980’ies by a group of German feminists (cf. Haug et al., 1999). They shared interest in how women’s socialization takes place so they started exploring this topic through their own memories as women. They wrote down their memories, read them aloud to each other and analyzed how the memories depicted processes of socialization. Collective analyses were central in this process, and their method has subsequently been taken up in different approaches. The following is one example of how memory-work unfold and are developing in my research at Medical Museion.
Workshop No. 1: Why memory?
The first workshop was an introduction to the method. Images and metaphors for thinking about what a memory is entered the workshop. What is a memory? And why is it relevant to study?
A container metaphor describes a modern understanding of memories as something mental. Memories appear as bodily insofar as they become a possibility via our neural networks in our brains. Memory is contained. Our everyday memories are stored as fragments. Remembering is putting together these fragments and replaying them. It is about preservation and loss. Some images might stay intact over time, whereas others might fade.
In contrast to this, a pin board metaphor shows memories through tensions between memory as social practice and as practices of subjectivity and between the temporalities of memories. Thinking back to who we once were, connecting this to our current understanding of ourselves – and maybe reinterpreting this connection. The processes of remembering matter. That we remember with bodies, with others, through activities and around places.
The plan was not to figure out, which metaphor was most correct. Thinking about memories was going to make memory and its complexities a bit more tangible and allow us to work with the tensions in the concept – instead of cancelling them out.
We went into the exhibition space of Mind the Gut. In groups of two, we chose exhibition objects that made us curious and/or that talked to us, and we made pin boards while engaging with the exhibition objects. We rounded off the workshop talking about the exhibition pin boards we had made and how they were going to be inspire us for the second workshop doing memory-work.
In-between workshop No. 1 and 2: Describe a memory
After the first workshop, each of us drew on discussions in the first workshop and described a memory. We did so with the following guidelines, which we were free to change and break if our processes of remembering called for doing so.
- Select an element from the shared exhibition pin boards that makes you curious or that talks to you (e.g. by evoking surprise, disgust, anger, sadness, happiness, fear, contempt, embarrassment).
- Describe a memory
- of a particular episode, action or event
- in as much detail as possible, including even inconsequential or trivial detail (it may be helpful to keep thinking of the exhibition pin board or another key image, sound, taste, smell, touch etc.)
- but without importing interpretation, explanation or biography.
- Choose the format of depiction you prefer (e.g. audio recording, video recording, writing, painting, acting etc.). Depict your memory in the third person. If you choose a non-verbal form of expression, think about how you subsequently can tell others about your depiction in the third person using a verbal form of expression.
“Learning and Memory” by Bill McConkey. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Workshop No. 2: Sharing and discussing memories
A week later, we met for the second workshop day. One at a time, we took turns describing our memories to each other. Memories took form in written text or were performed in spoken words through a live recall. After each depicted memory, we discussed the meaning laid out in the text. The discussion touched on a lot of different things; our guts, notions of memory, what engaging with exhibition allows us to do, just to name a few. By now, you might wonder what the workshops brought about. I will leave the content of our discussion aside and instead list some of the methodological challenges that emerged in the process of experimenting with memory-work. I use the format of the list as other ideas/challenges always can be added.
Challenges in experiment with memory-work: A list
- Introducing the topic. An introduction workshop on memory metaphors directed the attention away from our gut-psyche relations (which is the object of study in my PhD). How can the first workshop address the topic more directly but still facilitate a curiosity-driven exploration?
- The status of the exhibition. Was it all about exploring the exhibition or about using the exhibition to contextualize, visualize and illustrate a research topic?
- Practical issues. Making pin boards in the exhibition room has many bottlenecks.
- Analyzing material in various genres and modalities. Although describing memories in various modalities, this also increases complexity and makes it more difficult to analyze each memory. Might the genres and modalities draw the attention away from the actual research topic?
- Where did the body go? The first workshop activated the body, but at the second workshop we primarily engaged with the bodily gut-psyche connections through words. How can the body engage us more actively in the second workshop?
Inspirations for content and concepts
The content of this blog was inspired by the following literature:
Crawford, J., Kippax, S., Onyx, J., Gault, U., & Benton, P. (1992). Emotion and Gender. Constructing Meaning from Memory. SAGE Publications, Inc.
Haug, F., Andresen, S., Bünz-Elfferding, A., Hauser, K., Lang, U., Laudan, M., Lüdeman, M., Meir, U., Nemitz, B., Niehoff, E., Prinz, R., Räthzel, N., Scheu, M., & Thomas, C. (1999). Female Sexualization: A Collective Work of Memory. Verso Classics.
Middleton, D., & Brown, S. D. (2005). The Social Psychology of Experience: Studies in Remembering and Forgetting. SAGE Publications Ltd.