Memory for forgetfulness: Conceptualizing a memory practice of settler colonial disavowal

Areej Sabbagh-Khoury*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This article articulates a sociological conception of settler colonial remembering as a tool of legitimation. Theories of memory in the context of settler colonialism generally center counter-memories by the subaltern or colonized, or official hegemonizing representations at the level of state institutions. Underexamined is the dialectical nature of memory and discursive representations that help reproduce settler colonial processes of accumulation and displacement at the micro-level. The article draws on archival data from avowedly socialist-leftist Zionist colonies to explicate patterned representations of Palestinian villages that Zionist forces gradually displaced prior to and during the 1948 War/Nakba. I demonstrate how the colonial settlers attributed political meaning through five representational modes: contrasting the indigenous as backward and primitive and settlers as progressive and developed; denying an indigenous connection to the land; emphasizing amiable relations through the promotion of cultural progress and settler superiority; asymmetrically assessing settler and indigenous belongings to national collectives; and legitimizing land purchases that dispossessed indigenous cultivators, despite the settlers’ socialist ideology, while reducing conflict to the issue of economic compensation. I theorize a form of settler colonial memory based not merely on erasure, but on recognition and disavowal. Finally, I argue that local memory is a significant site of production in which the conceptual tools to both trace the historical processes of supremacy and subvert asymmetrical sociality lie.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)263-292
Number of pages30
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number2, March 2023
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Israel/Palestine
  • Legitimation
  • Memory
  • Representations of the past
  • Settler colonialism
  • Sociology


Dive into the research topics of 'Memory for forgetfulness: Conceptualizing a memory practice of settler colonial disavowal'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this