Generations, identities and the collective memory of Che Guevara

Authors: 
Jeff A. Larson, Omar Lizardo
Citation: 
Larson, Jeff A., and Omar Lizardo. "Generations, Identities, and the Collective Memory of Che Guevara1." Sociological Forum. Vol. 22. No. 4. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007.
Publication Date: 
October, 2007

Has the image of Che Guevara lost its power to evoke radical politics in the face of pervasive commodification? The commercialization of this 1960s political icon has called into question the power of the market to shape collective memories. Meanwhile, antisystemic movements of the left continue to erect his image at protest events. In light of this contest over how Che Guevara is remembered, we investigate, using data from a survey of Spanish citizens, who is most likely to recall him. We find qualified support for the theory of generational imprinting—Che is more often recalled by those generations who saw him rise to prominence during their formative years, although prominent as a collective symbol rather than as a living person. Our results also corroborate the claim that historical figures or events are more salient for, and therefore more likely to be remembered by, some subgenerational units than others. Thus, although the younger generations are in general more likely than their elders to recall Che, he is most frequently remembered by the highly educated leftists who espouse postmaterialist and posttraditionalist values and identify more with their local regions than with the nation of Spain. These patterns suggest that, in contrast to the dire predictions of mass culture theorists, the memory of Che Guevara has become increasingly tied to markers of social, ethnic-regional, and political identity.