EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W018)

Material culture, migration and the transnational imaginary

Location Auxilia AX2
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Julie Botticello (UEL) email
Ivana Bajic-Hajdukovic (European University Institute, Florence) email
Mail All Convenors

Long Abstract

This panel considers the "crisis of passage" that occurs through migration, the roles material objects play to surmount this, and that of the imagination, instrumental in facilitating global connections. Migration is a crisis because those who move are in situations out of the ordinary, with no safety nets to fall back on, with hardly any institutional support, uprooted from their social and physical landscapes. Migrants must develop their own strategies for dealing with complex situations and emotional turmoil. Objects play a tremendous role here to effect self-remembering, self-representation and home (re)making. The forms these take can be religious artefacts, healing materials, clothing, food, photographs, music. These 'mementoes' remind people of who they are and where they come from and to whom they are connected.

Migration is not just about citizens crossing borders from homeland to host-countries; it incorporates global movements of things, ideas and people: transnational movements affecting those who move as well as those who don't. Migration as the crisis of passage moves the traditional paradigm of migration into the realm of the imaginary, in which distant and previously unknown peoples can become connected through materials circulating in this global domain. The same types of objects cited previously can similarly be used to express outward belonging and membership to "imagined communities" not able to be experienced personally, changing persons and altering their concepts of local and global belonging.

We welcome papers addressing this crisis and how ordinary people respond to their extraordinary situations through the multiple meanings objects provide.

Discussant: David Parkin

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Russian food shops in Israel and Germany: different national symbolic participations and virtual transnational enclave

Author: Julia Bernstein (J.W. Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

The paper focuses on affiliations of migrants constructed and performed through material objects, namely, food practices as a symbolic area, a kind of alternative "food language" and implying, creating, and re-confirming "cultural tales."

The "construction of food as heritage, of taste as a skill, of the quality of life as quality of food" assumes special important emphases and meanings in migration when different "national cuisines," cultural heritages, and "social worlds" interact and clash, but yet have to co-exist with one another.

In describing and analysing Russian food stores as a controversial transnational informal framework of everyday life that serve as a home and "place-making practice" in both contexts this paper discusses multiple imageries within Russian food stores in Israel and Germany. Different narratives about imagined national collectives co-exist, mark their frontiers in this framework and often struggle for their role, place, and significance with regard to notions of migrants' collective identities in Israel and Germany.

'Rhodesian altars': remembering and remaking home in an ex-Rhodesian diaspora community

Author: Katja Uusihakala (University of Helsinki)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

My research concerns white former 'Rhodesians' who have immigrated to South Africa since Zimbabwe's independence. One way of remembering Rhodesia and of building a shared memory narrative is the transportation of homeland in the form of mementos. In this paper I consider how migrant homes are marked as Rhodesian by displays of memorabilia, compiled into what I have called 'Rhodesian altars.' The altars display various artefacts and mementos, such as decorative maps, collections of coins, flags, regimental plaques, commemorative beer mugs and so forth; in short, items that may be categorized as commodified nostalgia. I discuss the way colonial Rhodesia is present and represented in diaspora embedded in these mementos and expressed in rather uniform compositions. Although the mnemonic altars operate as quintessential reminders of the 'lost homeland,' their common features suggest that they also essentially create and express a sense of belonging to the diaspora community.

Relocating significance of materialized memories among postwar Jewish immigrants from Poland

Author: Kamila Dąbrowska (Museum of the History of Polish Jews)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Immigrants cope with the absence of the past through creation of memories, embodied in and evoked by objects. The meaning inscribed to a particular object changes depending on fluctuation of memories' significance. The paper will present materialized memories of a transnational group of immigrants, Polish Jews who left Poland after the Second World War, in the mid of 1950s and at the end of 1960s. It will concentrate on their complex and contradictory image of a private homeland (Poland) and its nostalgic, fragmentary representation through objects.

The traumatic memories are related both to the post memory inherited from their parents who survived the Holocaust and their own ones connected with an uprooting process started by anti-Semitic campaigns in the postwar Poland. These negative memories mingle with idealistic ones from their childhood and youth in the communist Poland and with most recent ones from their nostalgic journeys to Poland, they went on after 1989. Objects will be interpreted as a bridge between the past and the present, and as an expression of different identities of the immigrants (both individual and collective).

The paper is based on research made among Polish Jews who emigrated from Poland to Israel and Scandinavia.

It's just stuff: reflections on the material culture of the Apsáalooke (Crow)

Author: Nicholas Waller (University of Gothenburg)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

In this paper I wish to provide reflections and insight on the meanings of traditional cultural objects of the Apsáalooke (Crow) Indians of Montana, U.S.A., in relation to contexts as everyday objects, religious objects, and as historical museum objects. Through the years I have found that traditional cultural objects of the Apsáalooke take on a complexity of relations as trans-cultural and global identifiers of Apsáalooke identity. This complexity lies not only in objects of interpretation between cultural contexts (source community and museum display), but also in the identification of what is considered important about such objects. As the title of this paper implies, there is an understanding that the materiality is not so important, but rather the value lies in the process of an object's creation or the meaning involved in an object. Meaning and physicality are intertwined, but are also based on purpose and context. As biographies are subscribed to things as they have migrated from source community to museum display, the principle context is never eradicated and always remains whether the whole meaning of its creation is known or not. How then do the Apsáalooke as a source community interpret the migration of those biographies when they come full circle?

Between 'honouring' and 'making things': the social meaning of remittances sent by Ecuadorian migration in Spain

Author: Jesús Sanz Abad (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Remittances can be considered as the physical expression of a wider fact: the migratory phaenomenon. Insofar the express this phenomenon, they are traversed by a plurality of meanings that go beyond the economic.

Taking a study of migration in Ecuador as departure point, this paper will approach some of its social and cultural meanings: the role of remittances in the transformation of the local imaginary, their role in the introduction of new elements of status, or their symbolism as a way for the migrants to "return " and at the same time as physical proof of the success of the migrant, and as an element that can make sense of the migratory project.

The paper will also address other meanings that remittances may have in the domestic sphere, such as the nature of solidarity, care and responsibility that they may have, or their role as an expression of affection and as reinforcement of the construction of family ties in the distance.

Transnational objects, transnational cults: Afro-American religions in Europe

Author: Roger Canals (University of Barcelona)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Many Caribbeans have migrated and settled in Barcelona (Spain), bringing with them many objects necessary to perform their Afro-American rituals. But this expansion of the cult to the European context has provoked changes in the performance of the rituals: believers have, for instance, introduced new material elements -such as images of Catalan Goddesses- in order to "adapt" their religion to the new environment.

This ethnographic example demonstrates that material culture is more than a mere "reflection" of people's "culture"; it is also a means to integrate into the society, which creates social changes and new relationships while establishing material and symbolic bridges between different areas, cultures and individuals.

This paper explores the role of material culture in the expansion of Afro-American cults in Europe and, more precisely, the double function of these "transnational objects": on the one hand, they are used to establish a permanent link between the believers and their motherland; on the other hand, these "objects in motion" serve as a strategy to integrate the believers into a new society.

Being at home elsewhere: Sri Lankan Tamils' productions of home in Toronto, Canada

Author: Gayathri Embuldeniya (University of California, Santa Barbara)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

For many Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants in Toronto, the concept of "home" has two resonances; that of their village, and that of Tamil Eelam, an imagined separate nation-state in Sri Lanka. Using two ethnographic examples, I will analyse how material culture is preserved and produced in the effort to remember and create home by Tamil migrants. The first case is that of Anselm, a Tamil man who fills his basement apartment in Toronto with paintings and models of his village. While expressing his sense of loss, these artefacts are also a way of emplacing himself in a new city, and symbolize his recreation of familial networks in a new landscape. The second case is a group of young Tamil musicians who remember home by recreating it through music infused with hip hop and whose lyrics showcase a militancy that would not have been permitted in their homeland.

Cosmopolitan and authentic? The emergence of a Bangladeshi cuisine in London's East End

Author: Johan Pottier (SOAS)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Bangladeshi restaurateurs and traders in the Brick Lane area promote a still-in-the-making national cuisine through catering for Bengali-speaking customers or through promoting a Bangladeshi option within the generic 'Indian' menu. The consumption of home-foods is reinforced with narratives that feed on the imagination: narratives brought on by the selection of dishes on offer and by the restaurant/café décor with its evocative images In this case study, the consumption of home-foods as 'migrating objects' centres on fish dishes and vegetables whose trajectories-from-home are exceedingly bound up with the forces of globalization. Core questions include: how does the creation or maintenance of 'home-related identities' through the use of home-foods square with the emergence of global networks of provision? What narratives do restaurateurs and their customers resort to to explain the inevitable contradictions over sourcing they face today? How do they reflect on alternative/ethical sourcing?

Sending love through infant formula: (re)making of the Chinese transnational family in Europe

Author: Martina Bofulin (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU))  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Through investigation of objects of private use send to people who stay »behind« the making and workings of transnational family can be depicted. In my paper, based on a fieldwork conducted in a community of origin as well as settlement of Chinese migrants in Europe, I focus on a particular object flow of infant formula (breast-feeding milk supplement) between mothers, settled in Slovenia, and their children »left behind« in China. As Landolt and Da (2005) have pointed out, the family involved in the migration process has to adapt to new conditions, while continuing to meet the same set of needs. In this view, the regular flow of sending packages of infant formula to one's home acquires representative function of providing for one's children on daily bases. This kind of long distance parenting enables the protagonists to construct alternative views on notions of family and child care, which are more in line with the challenges of migration process.

Desirable and undesirable objects in Russian children circulation

Author: Lilia Khabibullina (Universitat de Barcelona)  email
Mail All Authors

Long Abstract

Nowadays children become frequent migrants in and between countries. Along with increasing number of immigrants the percentage of adopted from different countries is on rise. An adopted child from Russia is often seen as the most desirable "treasure" on "adoption market". Along with children some material objects cross borders. Whereas some objects might be connected to the past of the children, the other ones are imagined to be attached to them. Some material objects are chosen by adoptive parents to recreate the stories of origin. My objective is to see what material objects are significant in the process of circulation of children between families, states and nations. I believe that my cross-cultural analysis from the point of view of anthropology and literature will be particularly fruitful for W18 The Material culture, migration and the transnational imaginary of the EASA: Crisis and imagination at Maynooth in 2010.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.