Institutional Memory and Its Champions

The concept of memory as a tool and set of techniques that can be learned and skillfully applied to form mental and ideological spaces has a long tradition. Its use as a weapon to establish Symbolic Orders can be traced back to the earliest records of domination. Pre-modern societies based their social memory on the interaction of oral transmission and information in pictorial code. Artificial memory is established through places and images, a virtual psycho-geography of synreal systems, strengthened and confirmed by training.

Regulated by the state through an education system controlled by priestly elites, sensory perception can be harnessed through the visual representations of extremes or analogies which will then be methodologically applied in the creation of mental scenarios and punctuate the individual’s development through ritualistic ceremonies. A monologic tyranny of monuments is radiating the wonders and mysteries of the Symbolic Order, memorials of a spectacular reconfiguration of memory.

These scenarios introduce an arrow of time and an inherently political narrative logic to a mental structure of psycho-civilization, dependent on collective ritual re-enactment and performance, reinforcing hyperlinks of cognitive associations within the ideational bunker.

–Konrad Becker, Memory Construction, The Tactical Reality Dictionary

Institutional Memory

Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group. Elements of institutional memory may be found in corporations, professional groups, government bodies, religious groups, academic collaborations, and by extension in entire cultures.

Institutional memory may be encouraged to preserve an ideology or way of work in such a group. Conversely, institutional memory may be ingrained to the point that it becomes hard to challenge if something is found to contradict that which was previously thought to have been correct. Institutional memory may have influence on organizational identity, choice of individuals, and actions of the individuals interacting with the institution.


Institutional memory can occur when institutions interact with both internal and external environments and systems. Both the type and level of institutional interaction lead to institutionalization and memory formation.

Institutional Knowledge

Institutional knowledge is gained by organizations translating historical data into useful knowledge and wisdom. Memory depends upon the preservation of data and also the analytical skills necessary for its effective use within the organization.

Religion is one of the significant institutional forces acting on the collective memory attributed to humanity. Alternatively, the evolution of ideas in Marxist theory, is that the mechanism whereby knowledge and wisdom are passed down through the generations is subject to economic determinism. In all instances, social systems, cultures, and organizations have an interest in controlling and using institutional memories.

Organizational structure determines the training requirements and expectations of behavior associated with various roles. This is part of the implicit institutional knowledge. Progress to higher echelons requires assimilation of this, and when outsiders enter at a high level, effectiveness tends to deteriorate if this morale is unjustly ignored.

Remembering is not just searching a database for appropriate memories, it is an active process in which we reconstruct memories according to our beliefs, wishes, needs, and information received from outside sources. Preconceptions, called schemas, determine in most situations how our memories are organized and allow to process large amounts of information because of summarizing regularities in daily life. Information coming in from the environment is held in transient sensory stores of iconic and auditory memories from which it is lost unless attended. Attended information goes into an intermediate short-term memory where it has to be rehearsed before it can go into a relatively permanent long-term memory. However, if the item left short-term memory before a permanent long-term memory representation was developed, it would be lost forever. Two general types of long term memory have been identified. Episodic memory represents our memory of events and experiences in a serial form and reconstructs actual events that took place; semantic memory is a structured record of facts, concepts and acquired skills. The information in semantic memory is derived from episodic memory to learn new facts or concepts from experience. Memory for detail is available initially but is forgotten rapidly while memory for meaning is retained. Subjects initially encode many of the perceptual details but forget most of this information quickly. Once the perceptual information is forgotten, subjects retain information only about the meaning or interpretation. People tend to have relatively good memory for meaningful interpretations of information. This implies that when people are confronted with some material to remember it will facilitate their memory if they can place some meaningful interpretation on it. Mnemonic memory enhancement is using imagery keyword methods use of mental imagery, method of loci by associating items to be learned with a series of locations, and other strategies of organizing memory in chunks of narrative visualization.

The concept of State Dependent Memory is quite simply that if something happens while in an altered state, it will be remembered better if the subject is returned to that state.

The recall when in a particular mood depends partly on the mood when originally learning the material; this is referred to as Mood Dependent Memory. Being in a mood – such as sad, anxious or happy – triggers other memories of the same mood. Feeling good is more likely to make one remember good times, feeling “bad” it is often hard to remember that things had ever been good. Another phenomenon is Context Dependent Memory where we will remember things better if we go back to the context or setting in which they occurred. It’s astonishing what can be remembered just by going back to the original context, like an old neighborhood.

–Konrad Becker, Memory States, The Tactical Reality Dictionary

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