Names and Collective Identity

  • Otto Krogseth University of Oslo


The preceding two decades have displayed a remarkable awareness for a connection between the concepts "identity" and "cultural memory". David Lowenthal speaks of a "current craze for heritage"! Cultural heritage has become extremely popular, especially in combination with tourism, and has accordingly been converted into a modern system of meaning a type of "secular religion". With reference to collective identity and cultural memory, it is important to ask the cul- tural analytical questions: "Why identity now? Why heritage now?" My reply is that we experience a critical identity crisis. Three central aspects signify individual and collective identity: Continuity, coherence and individuality. The three aspects, constituting the concept of identity, are exposed to serious threats in the post-modern era: The danger of changeability, fragmentation and standardisation. This ten- dency has, however, met various compensating counter reactions like for instance "re-traditionalisation". In my presentation, I will examine the phenomenon cultural memory through examples from the German tradition -- principally from the works of Aleida and Jan Assmann.