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Lebanese youth: memory and identity

Righi, Céline (2014) Lebanese youth: memory and identity. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis explores the interface between collective memory, history and construction of identity in the sensitive socio-cultural and historical contexts of post-war societies. The issue of a sectarian culture of memory, a gap between private and public memory and divisive identity politics related to the Lebanese Civil War provides a case study. Focussing on young Lebanese, the thesis examines their relationship with remembering and forgetting the past and how it shapes their construction of identity. Theoretically, the thesis presents a dynamic scrutiny of the concept of collective memory, understood as historically shaped, culturally represented and informed through narratives. Making the case for the potential role of memory in breaking the cycle of conflicting memories and finding new forms of consensus, I complement the literature on memory and identity with Castoriadis’s concept of ‘instituting imaginary’ as opening up to a space for autonomy. The empirical research involves thirtysix young Lebanese people from different religious communities and socio-demographic profiles. The participants were assigned to view a photography and video exhibition, held in Beirut, in which artists displayed works about their personal experiences of the civil war and history, and also focused on the nude body - two thematics publicly disregarded in Lebanon. Five focus-group discussions were conducted after the participants’ exposure to the exhibition and these were complemented by twenty-four in-depth individual interviews. An analysis of the dynamics of the groups and a typological approach to the individual interviews were employed. The key findings of the thesis are that the emotional charge of the exhibit triggered young Lebanese (mainly women studying humanities) to explore the issue of truth and suffering as a critical response to the Lebanese ethos of fate, the banality of violence, and the taboo of narratives of the war. In contrast, hostile reactions to seeing personal artwork on memory as well as history, and on nude bodies in a public space, led other young Lebanese to repress war memories and demonize the sectarian other. Finally, this thesis discusses the sphere of intimacy mediated by aesthetic experiences in public spaces as constituting a symbolic and imaginary ‘space’ for the unravelling of cultural and ideological issues from the process of identity construction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Céline Righi
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Supervisor: Lahlou, Saadi

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