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The social life of ruins: sites of memory and the politics of a Zimbabwean periphery

McGregor, J. (2005) The social life of ruins: sites of memory and the politics of a Zimbabwean periphery. Journal of Historical Geography, 31 (2). pp. 316-337. ISSN 0305-7488

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.jhg.2004.12.026


This article explores conflicts over a series of ruins located within Zimbabwe's flagship National Park. The relics have long been regarded as sacred places by local African communities evicted from their vicinity, and have come to be seen as their ethnic heritage. Local intellectuals' promotion of this heritage was an important aspect of a defensive mobilization of cultural difference on the part of a marginalized minority group. I explore both indigenous and colonial ideas about the ruins, the different social movements with which they have been associated and the changing social life they have given the stone relics. Although African and European ideas sometimes came into violent confrontation - as in the context of colonial era evictions - there were also mutual influences in emergent ideas about tribe, heritage and history. The article engages with Pierre Nora's notion of 'sites of memory', which has usefully drawn attention to the way in which ideas of the past are rooted and reproduced in representations of particular places. But it criticizes Nora's tendency to romanticize pre-modern 'memory', suppress narrative and depoliticize traditional connections with the past. Thus, the article highlights the historicity of traditional means of relating to the past, highlighting the often bitter and divisive politics of traditional ritual, myth, kinship, descent and 'being first'. It also emphasizes the entanglement of modern and traditional ideas, inadequately captured by Nora's implied opposition between history and memory. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:3786
Uncontrolled Keywords:sites of memory heritage landscape postcolonial identities Zimbabwe ethnic minorities oral history HISTORY
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