Why Popular Memory?

For marginalized individuals and groups who have experienced the trauma or pain of the past, the need to be heard, seen and remembered in the present is acutely felt. While the CPM is intellectually open to exploring any form of memory, we privilege ‘popular memory’ as the social articulation of oppositional, dissident or subaltern forms of memory such as community, political, cultural, family and gendered memories.


But the desire to understand ‘popular memory’ includes the need to interrogate its relation to ‘unpopular memory’ and to challenge other binaries within the discourse. With this in mind, the CPM remains committed to anti-essentialist approaches to constructions of memory.

The CPM prioritises the significant sites of knowledge, which exist outside of official institutions such ‘the academy’ and ‘the archives’. We aim to critique the often antagonistic relationships between academic history and popular memory. This also involves a political commitment to furthering the human rights of marginalised groups by creating spaces for storytelling through various media. These activities potentially strengthen the public voices of people who are usually excluded or under-represented in different forums.


The CPM then, records and archives traces of popular memory, and disseminates these to diverse audiences to support the democratising possibilities of public history. These aims are encapsulated in our mission statement:

‘People in South Africa have a dynamic, but largely unrecorded heritage.

The Centre creates spaces for these stories to be heard, seen and remembered.’