Our interdisciplinary group sets out to pose and explore some central questions about the bases and dissemination of European identities. During the last two decades, as the borders of the EU have dramatically opened up towards the east and the south-east, there has been intense debate about the meanings of European citizenship. In recent years we have witnessed the frontiers of the continent being crossed and re-crossed by the flow of migrants, the flow of goods, symbols and media technologies, and the flow of new narratives and discourses. These processes have brought the question of borders right within the old ‘heart’ of Europe, transforming the way in which the continent is conceived from ‘within’ and from ‘outside.’ What is the relationship between this new geography, and how its political, social and cultural components are imagined? How are discourses about the European past located and locating in the present? And if expansion has subverted existing paradigms and analytic models, what challenges still confront the search for alternative, transnational approaches?
We aim to unite scholars from a wide range of different disciplines to explore these issues together, bringing Cambridge graduates into contact with academics from other institutions. Our group has two principle areas of focus - one concerned with material culture, and the other with the politics of identity and representation. Firstly, we are eager to consider how European identities have been constructed and transferred through objects and things, and reflect on the connections between European artefacts and technologies and European social norms. Secondly, we hope to interrogate discourses and processes that are perceived as distinctly ‘European’ from the viewpoint of the ‘periphery’, and especially from the experiences of the Balkan countries. Through these two themes, both fascinated with borders as sites of controversy and collision, we look forward to offering a forum for the creative exchange of ideas. With the fresh public interest surrounding supranational, regional and ethnic issues, it is an exciting time to participate in thinking through new lines of inquiry and comparative perspectives.
Lent Term 2010
The European Identities and Encounters Graduate Research Group, following four terms of research seminars, reading sessions, invited lecturers series, vivid discussions and debates on the aporias and questions on ‘European Identification(s)”, completed a first trajectory of its work with the two-day graduate conference on 20-21 November 2009 at CRASSH. The outcome of the vibrant exchanges of critical ideas at the conference among scholars from a wide range of disciplinary and theoretical background in the social sciences and the humanities turned the attention of the group to the significance of the debate on the affective elements of identification.
Thus, we decided to launch a new series of reading sessions for Lent term 2010 where we will be reviewing literature relating to affect(s). Our main aim is these reading sessions to serve as a theoretical background for pushing our interdisciplinary focus one step further towards a critical understanding of identification procedures as well as the passions, fantasies and attachments involved in the elaborations, developments or failures of politics ofin Europe.
PREVIOUS ACTIVITIES (2008-2009)
Launch Movie Screening. Arts Picture House
15 October 2008. Film ‘The Edge of Heaven’ by Fatih Akim
The activities of the “European Identities and Encounters” began with the screening of the film “The Edge of Heaven”, which took place at the “Arts Picture House” cinema. This movie depicts the itineraries of German and Turkish subjects of different age, gender and class in Turkey and Germany and between these countries. It stresses the fluid character of identities, especially in liminal spaces, such as the home of a Turkish immigrant in Germany, whose son teaches in a German university and refuses to speak in Turkish, as well as in a bookshop in Istanbul that sells books in German.
The film provided valuable insights about a number of issues, which would dominate not only the discussion that followed its screening, but all sessions of the group, especially the (shifting) limits of “Europe” and the institutions that reinforced them. The screening also allowed a first nucleus of participants in the group to get acquainted to each other over a glass of wine at the bar of “Arts Picture House”.
30 October 2008. Reading session
“How many Europe(s)? The complexities of a concept”
Synopsis: The group’s first reading session aimed at foregrounding different perspectives on understandings of the socio-political use of the concept “Europe”. Thus, we decided to focus on the politics of identity by engaging with three different approaches to European identity formation i.e. Smith’s exploration on the differences and possible convergences between national and supranational/European identifications, Stavrakakis’ account of an affect deficit that a project for a European identity has had so far and Passerini’s more optimist account on the possibility of constructing common feelings of belonging based on a shared history of suffering (see session’s readings for details). The discussion with the participants focused mainly on the impossibilities of a top-down construction of common identifications within the European social sphere, while, questions on whether there could be other more positive ways to build viable common ties of belonging on a transnational level, escaping the ‘need’ for the othering of ‘enemies’, preoccupied a large part of the debate that followed.
13 November 2008. Reading session: 2:30-4:30pm
?“Materializing Europe: artefacts, objects & technologies”
Synopsis: Discussion of the readings led us into considering the place of objects, spaces, and architecture and shared material and cultural heritage in the potential creation of (or deterrent) form a shared European identity. It was concluded that access to spaces and surroundings both can encourage a sharing of space and therefore daily experiences (from a bottom up perspective) but that it can also exclude and reinforce elites, for example, who can access which spaces or what kind of space or architecture is used for particular “European” versus “National” constructions. We also discussed the place of the past, in particular the place of an archaeological past in uncovering both shared, but also conflicting European pasts. It was concluded that by trying to enforce European parameters to particular disciplines we get caught in an act of directed knowledge construction to suit particular European agendas and therefore picking apart the agenda of disciplines such as archaeology that might claim to uncovers a shared ad accessible (ie tangible/material) European past is problematic
Rietbergen, P. 1998. Epilogue from Europe: A Cultural History. Routledge?
Kristiansen, K. 2008. 'Do we need an archaeology of Europe'? Archaeological Dialogues 15.1.pp5-25
Readings for this session were available at CRASSH before the discussion
27 November 2008 Reading session
“Europe and its Others: (un)making of borders”,
Synopsis: During this meeting, the participants discussed three articles. The articles were briefly presented at the beginning of the session. The main line of argument in the article by van Houtum et al had to do with their claim that Europe is not a “fortress”, but a “gated community”, namely that people can enter, but under conditions. The articles by Balibar and Stråth approach “Europeanness” as a cultural construct. They explore the shifting connotations of this concept, especially in relation to colonization, but also in the context of the post-World War II period. They also analyse the ‘Others’, against which “Europe” has been juxtaposed.
The discussion about these articles revolved around two axes: power and identity. The participants particularly made problematic the article by Balibar and exchanged views on the kind of power, which could regulate the making of European citizenship. Regarding the issue of identity, the participants discussed the understanding of “Europeanness” at the margins of Europe and particularly by subjects, which are deprived of entry in the European societies. The latter point has actually been a recurrent theme in most sessions of the group during both the Michaelmas and the Lent Term.
Van Houtum, Henk and Roos Pijpers. 2007. 'The European Union as a Gated Community: The Two-faced Border and Immigration Regime of the EU'. Antipode, Volume: 291.
Stråth, Bo, 2000. “Multiple Europes: Integration, Identity, and Demarcation of the Other’ in Europe and the other and Europe as the other. Bruxelles; New York: P.I.E.-Peter Lang. pp 385-420).
Balibar, Etienne. 2004. We, the peoples of Europe?: Reflections on transnational citizenship. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. pp. 1-10 (Chapter 1)
22 January 2009, 2.30pm
Film Screening: “Visions of Europe”
Synopsis: We resumed our lent term schedule with a screening of Visions of Europe, a collaborative film project from 2004. It is constituted of 25 short films, one for each of the European member states, and directed by a major figures in modern European film, such as Tony Gatlif, Fatih Akin and Theo van Gogh. Due to the long running time, we broke for an interval and refreshments in the middle, which allowed the group to share thoughts and responses. The selection offered a startlingly diverse range of perspectives onto European identity, seen as much from the plight of outsiders (such as African immigrants sacrificing everything to get across the Mediterranean) as from the perspective of haunted nations trying to come to terms with their past. In light of the previous discussions within the group about the importance of national stereotypes, these films revealed the ongoing attractions and dangers of ‘auto-exoticism’. The films consistently highlighted the marked difference of the Eastern European experience, from the Hungarian film showing one endless queue, to the Polish and Slovakian themes dealing with traditional Catholic motifs. Moreover, having read Yannis Stavrakakis’ work in a previous session on the explosive humour of Euroscepticism, the films presented a reminder of how the EU still struggles to overcome its dull, technocratic reputation. The Swedish film mischievously played with the image of a bloated, power-mad bureaucracy, labelling and tagging all the flocks of sheep. More darkly, Peter Greenaway’s film captured the sense of uncertainty for the future caused by the accession of the new member states. In earlier discussions we had touched on how far EU membership was revered as a kind of purification after 1945, and appropriately enough Greenaway’s film takes place in a communal shower, as the colours of the national flags are joyfully washed away. Yet by the end of the film, the seemingly endless supply of water has run out: with new participants clamouring to join the club of nations, the party has suddenly come to a premature end.
5 February 2009, 4.30-6.30pm
A lecture by Yannis Stavrakakis.
“Symbolic Authority, Fantasmatic Enjoyment, and the Spirits of Capitalism: Genealogies of Mutual Engagement”
Synopsis: The invitation of Prof. Yannis Stavrakakis was the outcome of the group’s engagement with his explorations of the puzzle of identity construction and the processes of identification, especially in relation on European identity formation and its hereto failures. Yannis Stavrakakis through his lecture proposed a critical explanation of such processes and turned our attention to the need of refined methodological approaches, like the one offered by psychoanalysis, that can unravel the perplexities of identity, and can explain the force of this ‘stickier’ elements that some identifications provide by becoming much more than mere labels. Especially by focusing on the way in which subjects attribute affective attachment to a symbolic authority, and the way in which, trough it, they re-construct their ties as groups (cultural, social but also political ties), he showed that the establishment of such an authority is scarcely the issue of mere coercion or social contract but draws on complex mechanisms of psychic investment where the role of fantasy construction lies at the very center. A vivid discussion followed the lecture, drawing on questions related to the institutional structures of European Union as a distinct sphere which produces a specific kind of institutional affect, or the affective role that a European identity –even if ‘failed’ for its bearers’- can play upon those that see Europe from its ‘margins’ like immigrants or citizens of the so called ‘peripheral’ countries (EU or non EU).
12 February 2009, A lecture by Dr Bo Stråth
‘European integration and a European democracy: a problematic relationship in historical perspective’
Synopsis: Dr Stråth flew over from Helsinki to address the group with a lecture on the shortcomings of the European drive to integration. The meeting was held in Emmanuel College Queens Building, and was able to draw additional attendance thanks to our relationship with the Contemporary History Workshop. Tea and coffee were laid on for the event by the college, and we took professor Stråth to lunch at hall beforehand. The lecture addressed the growing divorce between EU administrators and their citizens, while tracing the shift in the language of politics. He depicted how the Christian and social welfare principles on which the EU was first built were now in retreat. For Dr Stråth, politics stood in danger of being emptied of its serious social content, reducing it to the fashionable project of identity construction. Rather than leave this question in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, Dr Stråth expressed hope for a new vitality to be found through popular activism. Rather than attempting to dream up a national belonging from above, the awareness of a shared European solidarity could come only from reconnecting with its origins in political action. Neatly adding to our discussions, he was also critical of how EU funding stifled academic independence. Having previously debated the limits and exclusions of nationalism, it was very interesting for us to hear the speaker call the very concept of ‘identity’ into question. The lively debate afterward focused on how this politicized public sphere could re-emerge, and the impact of the current economic recession. Discussion continued later that evening over dinner at Browns, in association with the Contemporary History Workshop and their speaker, Dr. Martin Conway.
5 March 2009. A lecture by Paloa Filippucci. 2:30-4:30pm
“European identity & the heritage of war: the case of the Western Front”
Synopsis: Dr Filippucci drew on ethnography of the former Western Front in France and Belgium (now termed the “heart of Europe”) to discuss how the battlefield of a war almost a century old is still a key 'site of memory' for Europe and an arena for the elaboration and contestation of European identity and identities. She focused on present-day debates and practices surrounding war-related heritage in this area to show how the Great War remains alive in local, national and international imaginations and is co-opted to address current issues (e.g. Franco-German relations, the Northern Irish peace process, France's relations with its colonial past). The group discussion that followed considered how these sites had shifted from memorial sites to heritage sites; who they belonged to and how national identities were played out these sites through reenactment and school visits; whether war related heritage can foster a “peaceful and post war European space” and if communities at these sites look to the pre-war period as a national or European “golden age” of peace. We also talked about how certain excavations at these sites have started to do DNA analysis on the skeletons there (e.g the Australian cemeteries) and how such analysis might start equating nationality with DNA; how national days of remembrance at remember the dead, not as national heroes, but as suffering human beings, all alike under their different uniforms. We concluded that it is an interesting time to watch the development of these sites particularly if EC agendas for the sites end up clashing with local ones.
Eirini Avramopoulou (Social Anthropology)
Gia Galati (Archaeology)
Leonidas Karakatsanis (Government, University of Essex)
Nikos Papadogiannis (History)
Tom Stammers (History)