Representations of Indian history as tools for identity-relevant concerns: A cultural psychological analysis
University of Kansas
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The present research utilizes a cultural psychological perspective and considers the extent to which representations of history reflect and promote identity-relevant concerns (i.e., national identification, perceptions of present-day injustice in Indian society). Across four studies, I adapt a situation sampling methodology to explore the bi-directional relationship between collective memory and national identity. Studies 1 and 2 examine how recollections of a national past, and preferential selections of particular historical representations are associated with national identification. As part of a free-recall task, participants in Study 1 (N = 55) generated three historical events that they considered as important and relevant for the study of Indian history. Results indicate that a majority of events generated reflected nation-glorifying themes, compared to events that focused on assassinations of national leaders and wrongdoing against Muslims (a subordinate group in India; critical events). There was a complete absence of events that explicitly focused on social injustices and wrongdoing (i.e., silenced events). Participants who identified more strongly with being Indian (vs. low identifiers) were more likely to generate glorifying events focusing on dominant group experiences (e.g., Hindu-focused) in their first response, compared to events focusing on wrongdoing against subordinate groups. Study 2 exposed the events generated (in Study 1) to a new sample of participants (N = 95) using a within-subjects design. To make up for the relative absence of events focusing on wrongdoing, I included four additional events (i.e., silenced events) in Study 2. Results indicate that participants considered glorifying events as more relevant/important compared to critical and silenced events. National identity moderated their ratings of historical events. Participants who strongly identified with being Indian (vs. low identifiers) considered glorifying events as more relevant, compared to critical and silenced events. Studies 3 and 4 examined the consequences of exposure to particular representations of history (selected from Studies 1 and 2). In Study 3 (N = 65) I utilized a between-subjects design and exposed participants to either glorifying events, critical events, or silenced events. Results indicate that, compared to glorifying events, critical and silenced events (i.e., those focusing on social injustices and wrongdoing) reduced national identification, and were more effective in promoting perception of injustice in present-day Indian society. Study 4 (N = 160) also utilized a between-subject design. I randomly assigned participants to either read critical events (same as Study 3), glorifying events focusing on independence from British colonization, glorifying events focusing on predominantly Hindu and pre-British era, or a control condition. Results indicate that participants in the critical events condition, compared to control condition and the two glorifying events conditions, reported lower national identification. The critical condition was also more effective in promoting perceptions of injustice, compared to the two glorifying conditions. Finally, there was evidence of a linear trend, suggesting that exposure to dominant group representations (i.e., Hindu-focused glorifying condition) led to lower perceptions of injustice, compared to exposure to critical events, and a baseline control condition. Together, these studies provide evidence of the bi-directional relationship between identity and memory. Discussion emphasizes the collective character of psychological experiences and its relevance to the study of injustice and oppression.
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