This panel focuses, in a comparative perspective, on the mechanisms through which, in contemporary societies, representations of the past can be used, like Malinowski's myth, as a charter for political action.
Discussion of the implications of historical revisionism has spread since the 1970s from Germany to other European countries, including Portugal, often concentrating on questions of historical objectivity and political bias. We will here be concerned with how representations of the past, whether produced by professional historians and other social scientists or by other users (and abusers) of the past (novelists, writers on heritage, politicians), can function as a hegemonic discourse of political legitimation. This will involve discussion, among others, of the relation between those users of the past and their audience in what has increasingly become a public, and hence political, space; the role of different actors and institutions in defining the relation between history and collective memory; and, more generally, the social and political implications of promoting, diffusing and invoking shared interpretations of the past and, thereby, attempting to create, reaffirm or redefine a collective identity. Anthropology in complex societies has had to come to terms with the existence of written sources, but history has all too often been taken by anthropologists as given. We would argue that the past should also be studied through its effects in the present, as a symbolic resource which actors may claim, like Malinowski's myth, as a charter for a given set of social institutions and a justification for political action. We therefore welcome papers which propose, whether in comparative or theoretical terms or through the discussion of significant examples, to approach these questions as a problem in political anthropology.