Conflicts of Memory: Mediating and Commemorating the London bombings


Project summary:

People routinely remember and use the past by entwining personal narratives with public events. People remember where they were when dramatic events occurred. These may be highly mediated memories, in film, on television, and in print, but they are still part of our very real personal and collective memories. Personal biography intersects with history in just this implicit way, locating the unfolding details of everyday life in terms of the events of the larger society - history in the making. This project traced the linkages between the media and our everyday remembering of past events through comparing the instant and archival capacities of television with people’s own retellings of events.

In recent years, there has been a massive increase in the availability and use of mobile phones equipped with cameras and videos. Stills and film captured and disseminated by ‘amateur’ bystanders are now routinely used by news organisations to create and shape ‘breaking’ stories and enter immediately into the mediated memories and histories of events as well as in their remediated commemorations. Our project examined the role of this ‘new memory ecology’ in shaping ongoing rememberings and forgettings of the 7 July 2005 (‘7/7’) London bombings in which four suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured more than 770 in coordinated attacks in central London.

Instead of the idea that television in particular wipes out memory and feeling –however much it may reduce complex events to soundbites and talking heads – we found a dynamic and ongoing set of ‘conflicts of memory’ that reverberated around shifting media representations of 7/7. These we found in the various personal (including survivors, bereaved, emergency personnel), cultural, journalistic, legalistic and State-driven attempts to seek or resist ‘closure’ of the memorial record of the attacks of the 7th of July 2005.

Ultimately, despite the apparent fixity of the much repeated and ‘remediated’ iconic images of 7/7 (fed by television’s appetite for commemoration) and the institutional and archival ‘record’ of the Coroner’s inquest into the London bombings, new ‘counter-memorials’ such as the monument in Hyde Park offer ongoing time and openness for reflection and remembering that can challenge the high-velocity and intense assimilation and organization of memory in the digital media age.

Key project objectives:

i) Identify the dominant news discourses of commemoration and cultural memory through case study analysis of the media marking of the anniversary of the July 2005 London bombings and the historical events, images, and 'templates', drawn upon in the televisual contextualising and the re-contextualising of this event;

ii) Explore the role of 'bystander' or 'copresent witness' testimony in the narration and (re)construction of media events and explore the relationship between the representation of publicly mediated 'personal' stories and accounts and the availability and widespread public use of mobile audiovisual recording technologies (mobile phone cameras and video);

iii) Examine the impact of new amateur mobile audiovisual recording technologies in anchoring news agendas and shaping news narratives in contradistinction to 'journalistic' or 'professional' uses of this media;

iv) Identify the images used to construct 'composite images' of the bombings and analyse how these shape and transform recollections;

v) Explore the tensions between personal and official versions of events and how these are negotiated in the 'argumentative context' arising through commemoration;

vi) Analyse how key representational forms in the 'mediatization' of the events constitute 'obligatory points of passage' and the ways in which these are handled in personal and public recollection. may also keep memories alive and dynamic.

vii) Develop a conceptual framework that cross-fertilises psychological and media and cultural studies’ approaches towards a more dynamic and holistic understanding of remembering as dynamically configured through socio-cultural practices and shifting media logics.


image by uktripfor2006