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Narrating the North. Towards a theory of mythemes of social knowledge in cultural circulation

Abstract : When studying the history of geographical imaginations of the North, scholars often note that in spite of the wealth of cultural, artistic and societal contexts that are analysed, the same sets of elements representing the North can be found in constantly evolving combinations. In order to understand the sign system that is the North in social knowledge, the present article argues that we should change perspective and start by observing the smallest parts of the system, describing their nature and their ability to connect with other units of discourse. I propose to call these smallest units of discourse ‘mythemes of social knowledge’, and the laws that determine the possibilities to combine mythemes at a certain moment in time their ‘discursive grammar’. This approach allows us to understand the perceived stability not as a historical fact per se, but as an effect of family resemblance between mythemes changing through use and cultural circulation, and it permits to trace the history and geography of these transformations. In spite of the apparent simplicity of the approach, it proves to be quite complex as soon as we want to describe the changing repertoire of mythemes of the North in cultural circulation because of the number of sources and mythemes that should be considered. It requires data management that goes beyond traditional pen-and-paper analysis. It demands the use of relational databases, best informed by digital text retrieval with tools still to be developed. The last part of the article investigates the challenges and possible solutions for the sketched problem and presents first experimental results. It also shows that digital analysis not only allows us to handle the apparent complexity, but also helps to avoid the arbitrary definitions of individual mythemes because it forces us to work in a counterintuitive fashion, by objectivizing intuitive knowledge.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 9:49:14 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, January 7, 2021 - 3:32:17 AM
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Thomas Mohnike. Narrating the North. Towards a theory of mythemes of social knowledge in cultural circulation. Deshima. Revue d'histoire globale des Pays du Nord, Université Marc Bloch Département d'études néerlandaises, 2020. ⟨hal-03020605⟩



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