Memories of March

Memories of March



How did the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 affect the city and its inhabitants? What is the potentially long-lasting legacy of that event in individual and collective memory? In this short ethnographic documentary five Madrileños who were not directly affected by the bombings talk about how they experienced that morning and the repercussions six months later. Their stories are embodied in interviews that allow them to reflect, express, hesitate, re-experience and retrospectively evaluate. These are intercut with spatial shots of contemporary Madrid, as well as re-enactments of their morning routines on the day of the bombings – tacit quotidian routines that were suddenly disrupted by learning about the event through different means of medial communication (phone calls, news, etc.). The diverse demographics of the characters regarding age, ethnicity and social background account for comparative distinctions in their embodied performances during the film, exemplifying what Stella Bruzzi calls the “performative exchange between subject, filmmaker and spectator” (2006, p.10). Individual performances also vary depending on spatial and temporal continuums, eliciting speech, gestures and general behaviours that construct, whilst simultaneously perform, identity (Butler, 1997).


Conceptual Framework

The main paradigm of this film is to explore how a major, traumatic event becomes embedded into the everyday lives of a large, urban and heterogeneous community. This community is represented in the film through a variety of demographic strata in relation to age, gender, ethnicity and social class. The focus is on the subjects’ personal narratives and interpretations of the event, as well as the direct and indirect consequences it had on their quotidian lives. As none of the characters had first-person experience of the bombings, the event itself is epistemologically remote and marginal for the viewer. Thus, despite the fact that the bombings constitute the narrative’s inciting incident and common denominator that glues all the personal stories together, they form nonetheless the narrative’s background, rather than being a central plot device. This strategy has two aims: Firstly, it shifts the affective focus away from the actual bombings and foregrounds the impact of an extraordinary and collective event on ordinary and individual sensations and emotions. Secondly, it highlights the shared human experience that the stories have, thus revealing universal social schemas in relation to the subjects’ assessment of social behaviour and attitudes in their immediate environment. This is supposed to resonate with a wider audience, especially in light of contemporary global security threats and terrorist attacks.



The project used two main methodologies: Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) and narrative analysis (NA). From the outset the research took an emic approach that would explore first-person experiences, whilst keeping authorial intervention at a minimum. With reference to David MacDougall’s (1998, p. 78) notion of “knowledge by acquaintance” (in contrast to “knowledge by description”), the idea was to portray detailed audio-visual descriptions of lived experience, where meaning is not the “outcome of reflection upon experience but necessarily includes the experience … the experience is the knowledge” (MacDougall, 1998, p. 79).

In this vein IPA offered the most suitable tools for mapping embodied, subjective experience and for exploring the hermeneutic dimension of personal testimonies. NA provided the methods to evaluate the testimonies and assemble them into a narrative that disseminates idiographic knowledge (de Certeau, 1984; Thomae, 1999), interspersed with nomothetic knowledge in order to mediate the amalgamation of individual with a collective memory and experience. The mode of audio-visual representation reflects the methodology by starting the narrative with re-enactments of the characters finding out about the bombing for the first time, and then cross-cutting between their interviews. The interview segments are occasionally interspersed with general views of the city, as well as with impressionistic shots that visualise the affective and interpretative dimension of the interviews. Thus, in the tradition of IPA, the interviews provide factual accounts of the day and aftermath of the event, but also experiential and self-reflexive interpretations of these accounts. 



The sampling of subjects is inevitably anecdotal, but in terms of empirical data, this limitation is considered beneficial. As Sean Cubitt (2013, p. 6) asserts, the extreme specificity of the anecdotal method “provides depth and colour to the generalist findings of methods that deal with multiple instances and large-scale tendencies”, and grounds more abstract formations, such as representations, in a specific instance. From this perspective, even though all subjects talk about a collective event, their accounts are highly particular, and juxtaposing these particular views on the bombings embodies the different demographic background of individual characters. For instance, a Spanish nurse talks about how her suburban neighbourhood was shocked by the bombings; a Tunisian migrant evaluates the negative impact the bombings had on stirring up xenophobic tendencies towards Arabic-looking people; a left-liberal activist discusses the subsequent government-critical demonstrations she took part in. 

The strategy to allow subjects to not only recount but also evaluate their experience elicits an interesting interaction between Miles Richardson’s (1982) two modes of being: in one mode the subjects are absorbed in tacitly re-living past moments; in the other they become conscious of their own responses and the past as a constructed narrative. The liminal points of the subject’s switching between the two modes are revelatory of how the event has been embedded into their personal memory and perception. In addition, referring back to MacDougall’s “knowledge by acquaintance”, the interviews also mediate affective experience through, emotive facial expressions, body language, idiolect and spaces of reticence (thinking, pausing, hesitating).



Bruzzi, S. (2006) New Documentary, 2nd edition. Abingdon: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1997) Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. London: Routledge.

Cubitt, S. (2013). Anecdotal Evidence. NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies, 2 (1), pp. 5–18.

De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

MacDougall, D. (1998). Transcultural Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Richardson, M. (1982). Being-in-the-Market Versus Being-in-the-Plaza: Material Culture and the Construction of Social Reality in Spanish America. American Ethnologist, 9 (2), pp. 421–436.

Thomae, H. (1999). “The nomothetic-idiographic issue: Some roots and recent trends.” International Journal of Group Tensions, 28(1), 187–215.