The Meaning of Occupation
The Ambiguous Productivity of the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism in Berlin
The paper analyzes the mnemonic and political context of the occupation of the Roma Holocaust memorial in Berlin in May 2016, carried out by groups demanding the right to remain in the country for non-citizen Roma. Observing the actor strategies apparent in this event, as well as the governmental logics organizing memorialization, it argues that the pervasive contemporary phenomenon of ‘politics of recognition’ needs to be interpreted as a providing merely a frame for struggles for political agency. Normative symbolic clashes taking place in this frame require a more fine-grained analysis to establish whether certain mnemonic practices inhibit or empower the social groups they reference. The concepts the paper advances as better explaining the outcome of memory struggles are referentiality and productivity. These signify attempts to (re)organize the semantic spaces of memory, and, if successful, allow for political agency to operate in the reconstituted mnemonic landscape. Governmentalities, however, will frequently attempt to deny such reconstitutions of ‘settled’ memory, in which case any politics of recognition remains a hollow shell without the potential to re-orient societal and political practices in the present. In the case of the occupation, the memory conflict highlighted how the past may be use to challenge accepted boundaries and the practice of boundary-making in society, while also highlighting the importance of social and political coalitions to advance change.
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