A necessary framing? Thoughts on templates and tensions

In the beginning, Frigga Haug herself was somewhat reluctant when it came to writing down fixed guidelines with predetermined steps for groups to follow. In 2008, she writes:

I have, however, refrained from actually documenting research steps in written form. The current research methodology seems in need of further improvement, arbitrary in individual steps, and one-sidedly limited to the linguistic problem. It has not matured enough to be published as a general guide.

(Haug in Hyle et al., 2008, p. 21 )

It has become clearer and clearer to me that the power of memory work lies in the platform the process and the template itself - provide for destabilising taken-for-grantedness. Through memory work, we collaboratively question and explore the discursive construction and decisive effects of both our theories and our social worlds and ourselves. Haug invites the researcher to do memory work to change the method for themselves, remaining within - or critically expanding - the theoretical framework of the process (Haug, in Hyle et al., 2008, p. 21). Memory work intends to initiate a process of consciousness raising among the participants. Therefore, the result of a co-produced analysis is never a clear-cut singular analysis.

A collaborative analysis of a small written memory is a dynamic process in which the weight and emphasis on different parts of the text vary in dialogue, always depending on the moment, the context and the relations in the group that participates. To get hold of such a complex dynamic process of communication some kind of facilitation is needed. The template I have always used to guide the process of joint analysis is elaborated by Haug and has been thought of as a helper to illustrate concrete and relevant steps in a group’s examination of a topic (see Schratz & Walker, 1995, p. 45).

The function of the template is not to secure a correct carrying out of the process of joint analysis, but to systematically discover and deconstruct the processes of construction of meanings and how we (re)produce visions of ourselves, norms and society through language (Widerberg, 2003). The template, or what could also be called a sequential framework, proposes a number of rigorous and clearly defined steps that a group should follow. By meeting the requirements of each step, the group will be co-constructing the meanings of the written text; but also, little by little, a deconstruction of what is taken for granted in the representations in the text will unfold as clarity about the constructions and their relations comes to the surface. Often, new and unexpected perspectives in relation to the topic of interest materialize.

There is an obvious tension between the understanding of meaning-making as a fluid and contingent relational process and this apparently very rigid template. I remember that many participants reacted to the template negatively at the beginning, with the view that it would bound their thinking and limit the motivation to share experiences in the group. However, they would, after having used the template, agree that this framing of actions instead produced interesting perspectives that would not have been as tangible if instead a Tree' discussion about the texts had taken place. A cautious claim here could be that deconstruction needs some kind of foothold in certain framings with certain questions even though this can be perceived as an unnecessary limiting rule. 1 think a facilitator should be prepared to make explicit comments on this apparent tension between a not-guided conversation and a framed one, to get the acceptance from ’the other’ participants in relation to the use of the template before you start working.

The many versions - adaptions, weightings and stretchings8

Ways to do research travel - scholars meet at conferences, friendships develop and causal encounters with texts that become one’s favourite: all these states of mind and relations develop out of unpredictable entangled nets of collaboration.

Memory work has been used and documented both by individual researchers and by groups of researchers crossing geographical and disciplinary boundaries. Even if there has been an explosion of the use of narrative approaches to learning and development in both formal and informal settings in the mentioned timespan, memory work as collaborative analysis has first and foremost been applied as analysis in academic settings internationally. It is important to mention that the body of work developed seem to fluctuate more or less freely between individual and collective pieces of work, within the same researchers’ work and even in the same text (an example in Davies, 2000a, p. 37; Olesen & Pedersen, 2013). It seems that each researcher/teacher, each context and the conditions of the persons involved determine which adjustments and adaptions the concrete method undergoes, according to the reasons for choosing memory work as methodology and under which (time)conditions it was initiated.

Many of the researchers who, over the years, have kept writing and working with the method mention that it is both rewarding, meaningful and enlightening to keep up critical feminist work through memory work.9 New, beautiful studies about childhood and schooling in countries that were on the east side of the Iron Curtain have seen the light of day, and experimentation with memory work as a transnational activity involving a larger group of people and using the Internet as one way of communicating the memories is developing (Silova et al., 2018). What seems to be an overarching characteristic though is the collaborative feature and the critical reflexivity in relation to status quo, the explicit search for understanding the construction of the social dimension in life and the wish to radically change society into a more just and democratic one.

The differences in application are both related to how the empirical material is produced, how you go about interpretation and the onto/epistemologi-cal status given to product and process. How you include other studies and integrate one or more theoretical perspectives and how many people you involve are other features of difference in the practices.

This diversity has led Robert Hamm to term memory work ‘a method under the radar' and one of the reasons that memory work might be called this could be its relation to subjectivity. His ongoing project sets out to map the diversity of memory work practices internationally. He refers to Collective Memory Work (CMW) as a research method ‘that often leaves those who worked with it intrigued by its experiential potential as much as its depth' (Hamm, 2018; Crawford et al., 1992, p. 1)

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