Research Highlights

Licheng Qian (University of Macau)

The study of “difficult past” in Western/democratic societies has contributed insightful theories to our understanding of memory, politics, and culture. Yet is “difficult past” remembered and used differently in an authoritarian context? How can one consume a difficult past unacknowledged by the authoritarian state? By analyzing the consumption of Chairman Mao symbols in contemporary China, this article explores the memory of a difficult past under censorship with ambiguous rules, that is, imposed discursive ambiguity, and puts forward a theory of mnemonic displacement centering on two generational mechanisms: denial and diversion. The “attendant generation” has experienced the past, reads the discursive ambiguity conservatively and consumes the Mao symbol as denial of the difficult past. The “posterior generation” has no autobiographical memory of the past, reads the discursive ambiguity more openly and consumes the Mao symbol as diversion of mnemonic themes. As a result, the difficult past is displaced and forgotten. This article contributes to memory studies by theorizing a type of difficult past under discursive ambiguity, which is different from the Western/democratic context, and by developing a displacement theory of remembering and forgetting. 

Licheng Qian received his PhD from the University of Virginia and is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Macau. His research interests include cultural sociology, political sociology, comparative historical sociology, and memory studies. His articles have appeared in both social science and China studies journals such as Cultural Sociology, Memory Studies, Sociological Studies (in Chinese), and Journal of Contemporary China. 

(Qian, Licheng. 2021.“Consuming a Difficult Past Unapproved: Chairman Mao as Commodity.” Memory Studies 14(2):363-379)

Scott Westenberger (Stanford University)

Scott Westenberger grew up in Wisconsin and received a BA in history from the University of Minnesota. Prior to Stanford, he worked as a military analyst where he received specialized training in social network analysis and counter-insurgency operations. In the military, one of the main goals of this work was to understand how seemingly random, micro-level terrorist acts can trigger macro-level disruption with strategic-level effects. At Stanford, his research has continued to focus on uncovering the mechanisms by which micro-level social activity yield macro-level social change. Today, his work focuses on the wildly unpredictable world of fads and fashions. He studies popularity dynamics in pop culture domains like music and movies, and his research agenda takes up questions such as: Why do we like the songs and movies that we like? Why do our tastes change over time, and why are we unable to predict these changes in advance?

His dissertation, entitled “Fashion Changes: The Role of the Audience in the Fashion Cycle,” consists of three thematically connected empirical research papers designed to uncover information concerning the demand-side mechanisms and processes relevant to understanding macro-level popularity fluctuations and consumption trends. His work involves agent-based models, the analysis of longitudinal survey data, the creation and fielding of survey experiments, and further includes topics on social networks, social influence, and the structure and evolution of taste. The work was recently published at The Journal of Mathematical Sociology.