Residual Narrations in Shifting Memory Cultures
: Negotiating Violent Pasts between Private Life Stories and Public Memory Politics in Austria and Northern Ireland,1980s to Present

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores processes of personal memory making in the context of transnational memory shifts in Europe since the 1980s among those who grew up in previously dominant, now largely residual memory cultures. These shifts increased the public representation of his-torically marginalised, victimised and oppressed people. Yet, at times, those identifying with residual narrations about the past have experienced these changes as a re-framing of ‘their’ histories. This thesis uses oral history to investigate how they navigate and negotiate between their own personal, their families’ and communities’ private life stories, and public memory politics and political mobilisations of the past in Austria and Northern Ireland.

I use Austria and Northern Ireland as case studies in a differentiated comparative ap-proach to discuss divergent local and national manifestations of these transnational shifts in Europe and their impact on personal memory. My analysis in Austria focuses on memories of Nazism and the Second World War among those whose (grand-)parents were considered as part of a Nazi German ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ and not persecuted by the Nazis. Their family stories often connected to Austrian ‘victim narratives’. My analysis in Northern Ireland concentrates on memories of the Northern Ireland conflict among those coming from a unionist-loyalist background and who (used to) inhabit a unionist-loyalist memory culture, also invoked by the former unionist state. I conducted oral history interviews with eleven people in Northern Ireland between November 2019 and February 2020, and with thirteen people in Austria between July and November 2020. In both places, I focus on (descendants of) ‘ordinary people’ positioned on the side of dominant state actors in these histories of violence: in Northern Ireland largely from working-class backgrounds and in Austria mainly from rural communities.

I use oral history interviews to establish how my interviewees experienced these cultural shifts and how they compose their personal, family and community memories of these violent pasts in relation to them.1 Central to these negotiations of memory were reflections on potential personal, familial and communal ‘implication’ in these histories of violence as well as the nav-igation of politically charged meanings of these violent pasts between private life stories and public memory politics.2 This thesis also focuses on emotional responses to these shifts, which were often experienced as challenging to subjectivities, identities, family and community histories. Furthermore, it highlights the complex, multidirectional and transgenerational memory work taking place in the private arena of the family and scrutinises its tensions with public memory politics. This thesis builds on and contributes to the work of the Popular Memory Group on memory processes between the public and private and connects it to research on transnational European memory and (trans)generational family memory.3 In doing so, it broadens our understanding of the politics of ‘private’ memory and aims to create space for the critical study of heterogeneous cultures of implication and perpetration, and their meanings for society until today.
Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorEugene Michail (Supervisor), Graham Dawson (Supervisor) & Anthony Leaker (Supervisor)


  • Transnational Memory
  • Residual
  • Nazism in Austria
  • Northern Ireland Conflict
  • Implication
  • Family Memory
  • Structures of Feeling

Cite this