Memory studies and care studies [Research notes]
In previous notes, I mentioned the idea that the work of memory could be analyzed through the prism of gender, in particular because the work of memory could be close to a work of care. After short definitions of the terms, let’s see what are the first hypotheses that allow us to conceive the links between memory work and care work.
What is work? We should base ourselves here on feminist studies that broaden the classical and restricted definitions of work to extend it to a whole set of activities that, although unpaid, are part of the production and reproduction of life. The concept of work will therefore be taken in its broadest sense as an activity with a particular purpose: here the (re)production of memory or the (re)production of care.
What is memory and memory work? I call memory work the set of activities, actions that participate consciously or unconsciously, voluntarily or not, in the transmission of a set of knowledge, values, norms from one person to another, from one group to another, from one generation to another. For this reflection, we adopt the family perspective. This means that we are interested in what family members do to preserve and transmit their identity and culture. Since memory work as such is the focus of this research, it is precisely by looking at it through the prism of care studies that we will be able to learn more.
What is care and care work? Let us remember here that following the work of Gilligan and Tronto, in particular, a field of research has developed around the English concept of care, which evokes both the idea of taking care of but also of caring about. This research has shown the specificity of an ethic of care but also of the work of care (as presented before). This work of care is defined as everything that is done to meet the needs of others in a society but which is morally and economically depreciated. It concerns women’s domestic work as much as personal care services and all the activities necessary to the society, to the well-being of people. This specific type of work often requires skills, abilities that are associated with the feminine gender (and therefore devalued) such as listening, attention, communication and relational skills, expression of feelings, etc.
The general hypothesis that we can postulate is then the following: can memory work be considered as a work of care? A priori we can assume that memory work calls upon relational skills, which participate in the well-being of others and for this reason can be considered as care work. We will then have to define and show what are the relational dynamics of this memory work (we are thinking here of the transmission of memory precisely as an axis of structuring family ties) and how it contributes to well-being (we are thinking here of the search for origins and the psychological need attached to it).
Another hypothesis, perhaps less strong but more precise, is more concerned with showing in what way one conditions the other. The work of care and the framework of trust, complicity, and comfort that it allows us to create then appears to be a prerequisite for the work of memory, allowing the exchange to take place more easily and speech to be freed. On the other hand, the work of care in a family presupposes kinship ties that are not only based on biological filiation but are built around cultural values and norms, feelings of belonging and obligation that vary according to cultures, family histories, and individual trajectories. In other words, memory work is the basis on which the family bond is built, being itself a condition of care work.
It is then necessary to delve deeper into this dynamic and logic and to see to what extent, according to certain cultures and one thinks in particular of Confucian legacies, the duty of care towards the elderly is an important part of the transmission of memory. Indeed, filial piety, worship of ancestors, and norms of transgenerational cohabitation are all elements that are contributing to the establishing of the conditions of care work.
Another aspect that can be questioned concerns the post-migratory diasporic context, particularly in an Asian cultural context and in this case Vietnamese. Many testimonies show the stoic posture of parents who do not want to show their emotions, who keep their silence, guardian of secrets, traumas and taboos. It is also known that these wounds, despite being silent, reveal themselves beyond words and require a lot of care.
From this, several dynamics emerge which, seemingly opposed, can also complement each other.
Silence can appear as a rejection, an avoidance, a negation or an absence of the work of memory which would then require a specific work of care.
Silence can also be seen as a form of care work because it attempts to preserve and maintain the well-being of children, of relatives when the memory to be transmitted is heavy and painful. This enlightens us on the dimension of forgetting which is part of the work of memory or transmission that requires selection, (re)interpretation and adaptation.
In our research work, it is then a question of asking ourselves how the new generations, heirs of both the Confucian culture of silence as well as the new communicative and caring approaches, manage to take care of their families through the work of care and the work of memory.
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