EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Contested histories on the move: rethinking memory through mobility and agency

Location S-232
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Jelena Tosic (University of St.Gallen) email
Monika Palmberger (University of Vienna) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The panel reassesses the anthropological engagement with memory through the conceptual and ethnographic prisms of mobility and agency. Apart from the interplay of personal and public mnemonic domains, of special interest are diverse forms and practices of counter-memories beyond the national frame.

Long Abstract

As a challenging field of interdisciplinary synergies, memory studies involve a broad range of anthropological contributions. However, a great bulk of this research has focused on memory related to processes of socio-cultural transmission and continuity. Thereby memory has been framed first and foremost in collective and sedentary terms and within a national frame. In this workshop we thus want to explore questions of mnemonic practices and history production through the notions of mobility and agency. This approach allows us to both take into account and transcend the national frame in which memory has been traditionally studied and to reveal mnemonic practices contesting hegemonic historiographies. We are particularly interested in mobile actors - individuals (e.g. migrants, refugees) as well as transnational networks (e.g. civic activist groups) - whose mobility and transnational ties/memories empower them to contest hegemonic historiographies and to introduce alternative histories.

We welcome ethnographic and theoretical papers dealing with memory and its epistemologies, which address the following (or related) questions:

• When does mobility figure as a potential resource of contesting national hegemonic narratives and/or commemorative practices?

• How do increased and diversified mobility patterns affect mnemonic practices?

• What forms of mnemonic agency "travel" and develop through transnational (e.g. activist, artist's etc.) networks and how do they challenge national histories?

• What is the mutual relationship between personal and public counter-memories?

Discussant: David Berliner (Universite Libre de Bruxelles) and Tilmann Heil (University of Konstanz)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Nomadism and nostalgia: new tribalism and the memory industry in Hungary

Author: László Kürti (University of Miskolc)  email

Short Abstract

I analyze reconceptualization of history and nostalgia about aspects of the past and memory as the two most important driving-forces of current heritage industry in Hungary.

Long Abstract

In the past two decades, a growing body of work in anthropology, sociology and history has revealed the ways in which tradition and heritage are imagined and invented. During socialism, history was one of the most pressing issues for the leaders to whom the future (i.e. communism) was certain, the past unknown and distressing. Therefore, inter-war historiography was eradicated and a new one fabricated. Revisionism, however, has not disappeared and a new history is being written once more. It concerns an essentialist image of medieval nomadic tribalism which has more to do with ideology and imagination than with reality. This process is fraught with contradictions as there are multiple nostalgic attachments unsettling this unilinear and hegemonic national history. In order to market authentic forms and contents, hybrid and heterotropic avenues and strategies have been established. In particular, a reinvigorated sense of memory about medieval Turkic and Iranian semi-nomadic tribes (Cuman, Jazyg) has added to this history a fascinating new dimension that remains to be disentangled. In this presentation, I will analyze not only the historiographic dimension of this nomadism but those pertinent cultural institutions, elected offices and pageantry that have been invented to make this new memory industry work. Finally, I intend to explore various engagements of this new tribalism, and analyze how it intersects with many unsolved postures towards identity, heritage, and cultural agency both in the local context and transnationally.

Remembering "New Sion": the (un)realistic dream of Jewish autonomy in post-war Communist Poland

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

Short Abstract

In my paper I will present the different narratives referring to the idea of rebuilding a Jewish community in post-war Communist Poland. Past and present official narratives of the Polish state will be confronted with the counter-memories of Jewish inhabitants of Poland.

Long Abstract

Popular knowledge and elaborated studies of Polish Jewry refer to Poland as a land of ashes, where a flourishing Jewish life ceased to exist with the Holocaust. In my research I concentrate on counter memories of Jewish survivors and their children who struggled to rebuild "New Sion": an autonomous Jewish life in post-war Poland.

Within the new Communist order, attempts to create independent forms of Jewish minority life appeared at first to be realistic. For the first five years after the war, the Communist regime gave Polish Jews sovereignty. Jewish life seemed to be restored. Due to the changes of socio-political circumstances in gradually homogenizing Polish state, it was condemned to failure. However, until the end of 1960s, it still existed. Its end was marked by anti-Semitic campaigns supported by the state. Most of Jews were expelled from Poland. The dream of restoring Jewish life in Poland vanished for many years.

The collapse of Communism enabled reappearance of counter-memories. It provided an impulse to restore, preserve, and memorialize forgotten pasts in the aftermath of political violence. Polish Jews began to return for nostalgic journeys. In the perfomative acts of remembering, during the emigrants' reunions, the memory of a Jewish presence in post-war Poland is brought back. In my paper I will present the mnemonic practices undertaken during the collective gatherings of Jewish emigrants. I will also analyze how a Jewish presence has reemerged in fractured spaces overburdened by the traumas, in tension and synergy with other narratives of the past.

Remembering Oslo—debating statelessness: young Palestinian migrants and their memories of the Oslo Accords

Author: Eva Kössner (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Across multiple borders, young Palestinian migrants are challenging and revising the conflicting narratives related to the Oslo Accords. Taking into account their transnational ties and practices, I propose to bypass the oppositions of homeland/diaspora and mobile/sedentary in Memory Studies.

Long Abstract

Despite their ostensibly interim character, the Oslo Accords of the 1990s remain among the most essential events in recent Palestinian history. They fundamentally changed the relation between Israel and the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories and they transformed the whole Palestinian national movement. The preliminary findings of my ongoing PhD project on young Palestinians in Austria, Jordan, and the West Bank indicate that the Oslo period represents not only a highly controversial topic, but it also constitutes a specific moment of rupture at the core of this generation's coming of age. As such, the Oslo Accords and their implications have reconfigured the very contexts of memory (re)production in the Occupied Territories and beyond. Blurring the geographical distinction between home and host country, competing narratives about Oslo and the autonomy of the small enclaves of historic Palestine open up and reproduce fault lines that crisscross local and transnational networks and communities. Simultaneously, conflicting narratives about this period and related debates about national self-determination have an integrating effect across borders by strengthening ties to polyvalent conceptions of Palestine and Palestinians. By applying a transnational social fields approach, I propose to bypass the oppositions between homeland and diaspora, and mobile and sedentary lifestyles in the research on memory (re)production among young transnationally acting Palestinians. Through their underlying spatial conceptions both dualities hinder rather than promote the tracing of locally and transnationally reproduced ideas about the Oslo Accords, which are in fact connected to multiple processes of deterritorialisation and (re)territorialisation.

"We have been written out of history": memory work of former British child migrants to colonial Rhodesia

Author: Katja Uusihakala (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on memory narratives of British child migrants resettled in colonial Rhodesia. Set against the absence of family memory and lack of public recognition of postwar child migration, the former migrants’ memory work brings to the fore an alternative version of white colonial past.

Long Abstract

This paper is about formation of migrant memory in a diasporic network of former child migrants. The migration scheme in question aimed at permanently resettling British children (aged 5-13) in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) during 1946-62. The migration scheme was framed in terms of child welfare; it sought to benefit the children by removing them from their homes and settling them at a Rhodesian boarding school/children's home. Secondly, the scheme aimed at contributing to the advancement of the Empire by increasing the number of white settler citizens in Africa. The children were expected to rise to privileged positions, thus maintaining the racially segregated colonial social hierarchy. This paper examines the ways in which the memory narratives and practices of the former migrants contest the rationalities and intentions of the migration scheme. The analysis focuses on two points. First, instead of a simultaneously mobile imperial identity and a nationally committed Rhodesian identity crafted in the scheme, the former migrants appear to ground their identification and belonging to the affective webs of relationships formed at the school, making the remembering community the locus and focus of mnemonic practices, mutual care and loyalty. Second, the migrants often lack family and kinship memory. Until recently, they have also lacked public recognition of British postwar child migration, as well as records of their personal history. Therefore, the paper argues that the migrants' intersubjective memory work is not so much set against a hegemonic public memory as it is positioned against silence and a feeling of historylessness.

Refugee camp as a mediated locality: memory and place in the context of extended exile

Author: Dorota Woroniecka-Krzyzanowska (University of Lodz)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses the inter-relations between memory and place in the condition of extended exile, which is characteristic of seemingly unavoidable tensions between processes of displacement and emplacement. The analysis draws on the case study of a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.

Long Abstract

There has been a tendency within the social sciences to treat displacement as an anomaly in the otherwise stable and sedentary society. Consequently, the refugee identity was often reduced to persistent nostalgia for the places of origin, oversimplifying the complex relation between memory and place in the context of exile. A similar conceptualization was at times extended to include long-term refugees, though in their case attachment to the pre-exilic past was portrayed to be fading away with the gradual adaptation to life in exile. This paper introduces a different interpretation of dilemmas faced by refugees living in extended exile, based on case study of a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. Since their establishment in the aftermath of 1948 war, Palestinian refugee camps served as commemorative sites dedicated to the ideal of Palestine. The efforts to preserve their provisional appearance, as prime means of camps' symbolic significance, grew to the rank of national duty. However, in the situation of extended exile, the residents began to domesticate camps' space what was followed by necessary investments. My research findings suggest that camp inhabitants, conscious of the symbolic threat these developments entailed, began to redefine camp's commemorative utterance, based on the fact of their, the refugees', continuous residence on the site and not on that site's provisional appearance. The camp has been constructed as a symbolic representation of refugees' places of origin, while their attachment to it as a mediated locality through which the pre-exilic past is being lived in exile.

"Putting them in their small place?" Brazilian migrants in Portugal and the challenges of the imperial discourses

Author: Simone Frangella (Institute of Social Sciences - University of Lisbon)  email

Short Abstract

Based the ethnographic investigation on Brazilian migrants living in Portugal, I intend to explore how the immigrant daily experiences in a former coloniser`s land are not just immersed set of mnemonic representations in tension, but they also challenge and transform them.

Long Abstract

In this paper I intend to explore how the immigrant daily experiences in a former coloniser`s land are not just immersed set of mnemonic representations in tension, but they also challenge and transform them. Taking in account the ethnographic investigation on Brazilian migrants living in Portugal, as well as the intense theoretical debate on the Portuguese Empire representation and its incorporation by the ex-colonies, I would like to discuss how the transnational mobility of these migrants carry an important dimension regarding memory, and how this affects the concrete daily lives of the immigrants in the receiving land.

The transnational connection between Brazil and Portugal are of a particular kind, if we compare with other destinations Brazilians go. Because of the same language and assumed common ties historically built, both countries allow bi-directional flows of goods, people, images, although not necessarily in an equal way. But these connections have been also raising many ambiguities concerning mutual representations and practical changes, where history has always a contesting place. In the case of Brazilian migrants, this situation involve a significant tension in their routine negotiations.

Thus, on one hand, Brazilians carry in their transit historical hegemonic narratives and mnemonic practices - on their own country and the on the Portuguese land - that suffer a constant reconfiguration upon their arrival in Portugal. On the other hand, the harsh negotiations to find a place in the new land involve different ways of living or facing this memory, according, for example, to class and gender issues.

A past that hurts: trauma, emotions and the politics of memory between Lisbon and Dhaka

Author: José Mapril (Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA))  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnography of the debates between secular and islamist Bangladeshis in Lisbon, Portugal, this paper will argue that transnational migration contexts are spaces of contention of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic (national) memories.

Long Abstract

This presentation will ethnographically explore the relation between mobility, in this case, transnational migration, and the politics of memory (Hacking 1995). The objective is to reveal how the struggles for a dominant/hegemonic narrative about the past are fought out in a transnational context. In a way, and as Bayart (2004) argues, national memories are frequently, and to a certain extent paradoxically, (re)produced in transnational/mobile contexts.

This argument will be explored through an ethnography of the debates between secular and islamist Bangladeshis in Lisbon, Portugal, about the role played by an islamist political party - Jamaat-i-Islami - and its main leaders during the Bangladeshi war of independence, in 1971. These heated debates in Lisbon began in 2003 but reached a climax in the past four years, in the context of the polemics of ICT - the International Crimes Tribunal implemented in Bangladesh in 2009, by the Awami League government, to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed during the independence war - and the Shabhag protests. In Lisbon, the secularists argue that this is a moment of closure and a way to come to terms with the trauma and emotions - the embodiements - of the past (Fassin 2008), namely by bringing the culprits to justice, while for the islamist, the ICT is only manipulating the past with political intent.

In any case, what these debates reveal is how transnational migration contexts and diasporas are arenas actively engaged in the production of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic (national) memories.

Struggling to remember, fighting for memories: photographs in irregular migration

Author: Natalia Alonso Rey (Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona))  email

Short Abstract

The objects that accompany migrants' journeys are selected in a process that often implies choosing what and how to remember. This can be specially difficult for irregular migrants. In this context I want to discuss the importance of selection and materiality to mantain, dispute and produce memory.

Long Abstract

In this paper I want to discuss preliminary data from my investigation on objects that come inside the first suitcases of migrants living in Catalonia, Spain.

I will focus on objects taken by people who migrated in what's called irregular administrative situations. Specifically, I want to concentrate the attention on photographs (analyzed not only from their visual content but also from their materiality) taken by Uruguayan women who migrated to Spain. When preparing the suitcases, irregularity migration materialized. The choice of objects was shaped by migratory regulations and the fear of the moment of crossing borders. These women dreaded that the objects taken could "reveal" them as migrants and not tourists, as they wanted the authorities at the airport to believe. The fear to be "discovered" was especially relevant in connection to photographs. But still, they packed them. I want to discuss their strategies and reflections on photographs, memories, border crossing and irregularity, to reflect on how migration regulations shaped their migration and how these women tried to resist them by choosing to take photographs along. My aim is to discuss how and why to preserve personal and family memory can be considered an act of resistance in this context, and how photographs were the ideal allies in this task.

Sketching the contours of a phenomenology of migrant nostalgia

Author: Annika Lems (Max Planck Institut for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

In this presentation I will attempt to tackle nostalgia’s multi-facetted character by building a bridge between nostalgia as an immediate, lived phenomenon and as a discursive construct embedded within a very particular history of knowledge.

Long Abstract

In a world often characterised by migration, fluctuation and instability, nostalgia is on everybody's lips. In anthropology, it appears in the form of people's mournful relation to lost or destroyed places - be it through objects, narratives, or institutionalised memory-sites. Yet, while nostalgia resonates with some of the most pressing questions of our time, it has been widely under-theorised. It is a phenomenon characterised by such ambiguity that theorists seem to shy away from tackling it directly, leading to an often uncritical and taken-for-granted use of the term.

In this presentation I will attempt to tackle nostalgia's multi-facetted character by building a bridge between nostalgia as an immediate, lived phenomenon and as a discursive construct embedded within a very particular history of knowledge. Giving glimpses into the historical development of nostalgia as a discourse I will show how it has come to be inextricably linked to ideas of displacement and loss. Juxtaposing this metaphorical treatment of loss and nostalgia with the perspective of someone who has experienced displacement firsthand, my aim is to establish a better understanding of how displacement, memory and nostalgia overlap in everyday life. I will suggest that it is exactly because of its ambiguous nature and its capacity to shed light on the links between place, self and time that nostalgia needs to be considered as a phenomenon that is of critical theoretical importance, particularly (but not only) in the face of displacement and migration.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.