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Autobiographical Memory and Identity Updating - page 15 / 19





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These reciprocal identifications have to do with the complex relations at camp meeting between doing and viewing.  Young campers tend to be occupied with a wide range of activities, ranging from bike riding, Bible classes, and sports to arts and crafts. Middle-aged people (especially women) are busy tending to children and cooking chores.

Since the work of Freud, psychologists have distinguished between two sorts of memory in relation to point of view.  Field memories are kinetic memories of doing things framed in the first person.   Observer memories are more distanced memories framed from an overhead view of the action, looking down on it from a distance (Schacter 1996:21, Nigro and Neisser 1983).  Over time at camp meeting, people come to watch their kids doing exactly what they did.  This produces I think but a systematic alternation between observer and field memories. The resulting confusion or blurring of memory permits  campers to “participate” in the lives of their own offspring at the same moment as they gain reflexive distance.  

Sometimes, I have to just get myself out of a daze almost.  I can see things, you know, that I did, and how they are doing them. I think probably it means the meaning of Salem changes as you get older.  Like it’s probably real different for the kids, in some way, than it is for the parents.

For people living in stable communities, who bring up their children in the same community in which they grew up, the conditions are present for a similar conflation of observer and field memory as we have observed for Salem.  But most of the Campers are from highly mobile middle-class families, and their lives have not provided this stability of setting that supports identity updating in any everyday setting.  Salem provides a ritual simulation of a stable small town setting, a “home” base to which campers return repeatedly and for one week each year engage is ritually scaffolded identity at the same time as they get spiritually revived.  


Flexibility in scheduling has many clear short-term advantages for working parents, allowing working parents to configure precious time around ever-changing and sometimes unpredictable needs.  This paper, by contrast,  has considered some of the psychological tradeoffs entailed by hyper-mobility and schedule unpredictability.  We have looked at some of the long-term implications of the fragmentation of time, space and social relationships on autobiographical memory.  The paper has examined the ways in which a Camp Meeting tradition can provide for its campers a compensatory stabilizing framework. Annual family reunion traditions like camp meeting have the ability to provide geographically dispersed middle-class families with a powerful stable framework of social relations and a home base which appears to support a coherent basis for continually updating personal identities.

Identity updating is relatively unproblematic for people who live out their lives in more-or-less stable and coherent social settings.  The socially dense and multiplex social relations made possible by such stable settings, along with a shared framework of social roles and statuses do not guarantee happiness. But they do afford people a framework for constantly updating their sense of self, incorporating changes in age and status within a relatively constantly frame as they move through their lives.  

Such a enduring social reference frame is increasingly hard to come by in modern life,

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