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Autobiographical Memory and Identity Updating - page 6 / 19

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some point in one’s life it is likely that the reciprocal statuses will coincide and we can be at once both a parent and a child.8 These various forms of identity reciprocity that are built into family relations are central aspects of the way we rely on external models for our developing sense of self.  In a sense one does not become just a father or a mother, but rather eventually discovers oneself becoming (in both positive and negative senses) one’s own father or mother.   Growing up within a family necessarily engages an eventual exchange of perspectives.  Such a taking on of another’s perspective is essential to the kind of social learning involved in human socialization and identity formation.9  This kind of reciprocity of status, the capacity to identify with others and take on important aspects of their identity is an important way that people eventually narrow the gap between Observed and Intuited Selves.

Camp Meeting: A Ritual Framework for Identity Updating

Rituals are particularly important sources of autobiographical memory.  Rites of passage such as weddings, funerals, Bar Mitzvahs, birthdays, and other anniversaries establish important landmarks in the life course of both individuals and families (Turner 1969/1977, 1982; van Gennap 1960).  They serve as socially salient and easily communicable shared reference points for autobiographical memory.  Rites of passage are important for autobiographical memory because they represent events that are more of less unique in an individual life-story in formats that are conventional and socially shared.  They provide a collective language for expressing individual moments, and thus are a key way of reconciling personal and collective experience (Shore 1998b).  Rites of passage celebrate use predictable ritual forms to mark what are often unique changes in individual’s lives.  The ritual forms provide a sense of deep continuity just as the changes they mark symbolize powerful forms of discontinuity..

Another important ritual form that bridges change and continuity are “rites of reaggregation,” rituals that periodically bring together people with close ties but who are normally scattered.  This fundamental “social” role of ritual in producing periodic moments of solidarity for dispersed communities suggests the classic Durkheimian reading of ritual (Durkheim 1915).  For Americans the reaggregation of dispersed extended families is probably the most salient function of our most important holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Years.

The concern with reuniting a scattered family emerges from the basic structure of the American middle-class family and its characteristic developmental cycle (Shore 2003a).  Lacking joint property and economic interests to keep siblings together after they leave their childhood homes to establish their own families and careers, American middle-class families function in fact as temporary institutions which function basically for socializing children to set out on their own.  Yet clearly Americans appear reluctant to acknowledge the short life of their families, and are drawn to a wide variety of nostalgic and idealized representations of their families as enduring far beyond their actual life-span.  Protecting and preserving the fragile middle-class family has become a very potent political and religious issue in contemporary American life.

Responding to these nostalgic American yearnings to revive the family are various forms of home-coming ritual.  In a country that was settled by people who consciously broke away from their communities and families of origin, family reunions are a distinctively American response to the sense of family dispersion.  Perhaps the oldest American family reunion tradition is the Camp Meeting.  Born on the American Frontier in Kentucky and Tennessee during the

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