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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011

(P203)

Narrative spaces in a multicultural city

Location Tower A, Piso 0, Room 2
Date and Start Time 19 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Larisa Fialkova (The University of Haifa) email
Maria Yelenevskaya (Technion, Israel Institute of Technology) email
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Short Abstract

Urban spaces act as arenas of lifestyle competition. The main nodes of ethno-cultural enclaves establish the uniqueness of minority groups and maintain their identity. What codes make these nodes transparent/undecipherable for outsiders? Do narrative spaces of various groups merge or remain isolated?

Long Abstract

In the period of globalization and mass migration world cities have become multicultural, but constituent cultures do not always act in unison. Urban spaces turn into arenas in which different lifestyles interact and compete. Ethnic enclaves may be found on the periphery and in the city centre turning the inner city into a social periphery.

What spaces serve as the primary nodes of ethno-cultural enclaves? What emotions do they evoke among members of majority and minority groups? What policies and patterns of group behaviour make them friendly meeting places that serve as the source of mutual enrichment, or turn them into sites of conflict and alienation?

Narrative spaces, such as churches and temples, museums and memorials, ethnic restaurants and shops are utilized to establish the uniqueness of a specific group and contribute to the maintenance of its identity. Their symbolic role is not isolated from pragmatic goals of building the group's economic wellbeing and meeting everyday needs of its members. Urban ethnic enclaves are often exploited as sites of tourist attraction, but are they legible for outsiders? What codes and symbols are used to make them transparent, or conversely, undecipherable?

Narrative spaces are essential components of urban images. Their most prominent dimensions are visual, but sounds and smells also have a role in attracting or repelling outsiders. How do images of ethnic enclaves change, depending on the time of day and the season? Do narrative spaces of multicultural cities merge over time or remain isolated?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Kohtla-Järve: the meeting area of different ethnic and cultural groups

Author: Tiiu Jaago (University of Tartu)  email
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Short Abstract

In order to cope in a multicultural environment, different groups need balance between group interaction and shared cultural needs. How does this topic manifest itself in the spontaneously narrated written life stories of common people?

Long Abstract

I analyse the written life stories of the inhabitants of Kohtla-Järve. My objective is to find methods of coping with cultural differences in the home and work environment descriptions by narrators with different ethnic background and historical experience. Applying content analysis I concentrate on the problem of one's own and strange: How the matters felt as one's own are distinguished in the narrative from those perceived as strange.

Among Estonian cities, Kohtla-Järve with its surroundings offers specific interest as a multicultural area - none of the bigger ethnic communities is culturally dominant there. However, these communities are internally divided into smaller ethno-cultural groups which cannot always be defined as one or another larger community. For example, as ethnic Russians, Old Believers represent the Russian community; on the other hand as compared to those who

immigrated after WWII, they are "local inhabitants" due to their historical and migration experience. They did not come to Estonia during the Soviet period. Similarly, the Ingrians could partly belong to the Estonian and partly to the Russian community, at the same time being still a separate small ethnic-cultural group with their own experience of history.

There are no Jews here: from polyethnic to monoethnic town in Burshtin

Author: Svetlana Amosova (European University)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper is based on fieldwork materials about Jews collected among non-Jewish population in Burshtin, Ukraine. Jewish community of the town was exterminated in WWII, so the main aim of the paper is to describe an actual image of the ethnic group that disappeared.

Long Abstract

The paper is based on fieldwork materials about Jews collected among the non-Jewish population in Burshtin, Ukraine. The interviews were collected in 2009-2010. The interviewees are Ukrainians born before WWII. In childhood, they were eyewitnesses of rich Jewish life in the town. The questions were designed to explore three major themes: (1) life stories of Jewish families, (2) religious life, (3) Jewish calendar rites and rites of passage.

The main results of the investigation can be formulated as follows: (1) the actual memory about Jewish life contains a mix of child reminiscences and stereotypical folklore beliefs; (2) information about formal Jewish organizations (e.g. political parties) has completely disappeared; (3) information about particular persons (e.g. neighbors) still exists. Notably, the transmission "vehicle" of information about Jewish life is town toponymics: the informants describe some places as "Jewish".

Transformations in the Skopje Old Bazaar, transformations in new Macedonia: spatiality of ethnopolitics

Author: Goran Janev (Sts Cyril and Methodius University Skopje)  email
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Short Abstract

I consider the spatial aspect of the concepts of ethnic boundaries by examining how the narrative of a divided city contributed towards creation of exclusive spaces and how the latter contributes towards creation of narrative of a mixed and multicultural city and such spaces within it.

Long Abstract

The central square and the immediate surroundings of the Macedonian capital Skopje is to receive over dozen of new buildings and between 30 and 50 new monuments in a four year period. This total symbolic reconstruction of the capital creates a monocultural narrative space and disregards the famed diversity that used to characterize the country.

Adjacent to this area is the Old Bazaar, the central part of the ancient Skopje. This is a narrative space of great diversity whose incredibly heterogenous soundscape and smellscape marks the various religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural tastes and belongings. This image of the Old Bazaar has been affected by the ethnopolitical adventures in the past two decades of Macedonian independence. Yet it has been recently revived and this space is now revisited by new generations. It is no longer a border zone and has been turned into a contact zone.

Even though the spatiality of ethnopolitics receives only limited academic attention, I intend to explore the possibility of looking at interethnic relations, positive and negative, as they evolve in space. I apply a literal reading of the concepts of borders, frontiers and boundaries beyond the metaphorical usage and consider their spatial aspect. I examine how the narrative of a divided city contributed towards creation of exclusive spaces and how the creation of exclusive spaces contributes towards creation of narrative of mixed and multicultural city and such spaces within it.

Narratives and multiculturalism in a marginal place

Authors: Petruta Teampau (Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania)  email
Kristof Van Assche (St Cloud State University)  email
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Short Abstract

A small town of Sulina which has multicultural past, memories of localized cosmopolitanism alternate with stories of communist abundance, an innocent natural state, rich European future, strong Romania and corrupt and weak Romania, making it a place rich in narratives.

Long Abstract

While history never stops, and no place is marked by perfectly monolithic discourse, we argue that the story of Sulina is instructive in several ways. It is a site with a remarkably high absorption of narratives and a remarkably high complexity in memory shifts. Thus it is an arena favorable for the study of how flexible communities can be in their continuous reinvention. In fact, this place seems to be particularly permeable to narratives; on the one hand, its current identity is visibly shaped by Mr. Zachis's and other people's stories and "memories", as they construct a desirable image of "our city"; on the other hand, the projection of Sulina in mass media (mostly negatively) influences how people perceive themselves and their hometown. In fact, all of these stories reinforce each other with positive and negative images circulating freely in peoples' narratives, mixing genres and details, data and sources. Mr. Zachis's "memories" get published in central newspapers and receive a much wider audience than his "live" performances, turning him into a character and a local star (also shaping his "repertoire"). However, despite appearances, his version of "how our town used to be" does not enjoy universal acceptance. In fact, what this overarching narrative that seems to saturate the current social and discursive space is doing is silencing counter-memories, the kind of memories that would testify to a different record of the past.

Understanding urban spaces: how the speakers of Russian talk about Helsinki

Authors: Ekaterina Protassova (University of Helsinki)  email
Anu Reponen  email
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Short Abstract

Russian is the most spoken foreign language in Helsinki. We examine how the inhabitants of Helsinki whose first language is Russian experience this town and describe it, what places in Helsinki are relevant for them, what emotions and associations are connected to the urban places and names.

Long Abstract

Helsinki, the capital city of Finland, is becoming multicultural. The historical minority of the Russian speakers has been joined by the largest immigrant and tourist group with the same language. This heterogeneous group of the Russian-speakers has been interviewed in groups and individually, with a focused attention to the place names and/or to the language biography. Additionally, we organized a competition under the title 'My Helsinki' in Russian and studied Russian tourist views of Helsinki. Now, we know what places seem familiar, cozy, important, interesting, "speaking to the heart", perceived as one's 'own', and what places are viewed as miserable, foreign, belonging to the 'other'. Urban names commemorate facts of integration, acquaintance with the Finnish town culture, the clash of prejudices and real life stories. Different explanations have been offered to provide understanding of the structure dominating everyday transportation. We also studied place names, both official and unofficial, given to the parts of the city by immigrants of different ages. We explain the use of such names from the psychological, sociological and linguistic perspectives (e.g., in comparison with the slang names used in Russia). The 'Old' and the 'New' Russian toponyms are discussed: the Czarist-time names vanished from the town's toponymy, but they are still present in the discourse of the 'Old Russians'. The image of Helsinki as perceived by tourists has changed since the Soviet times, together with the change of the historical epoch and ideology. The image of Helsinki is reflected in the minds of its dwellers and visitors and it contributes to the fusion of cultures.

The destruction and (re)construction of Moscow: a narrative of national identity in progress?

Author: Catharine Nepomnyashchy (Barnard College, Columbia University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines how the (re)construction of Moscow in the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union has sought to embody a new national narrative by incorporating and renovating elements of the tsarist and Soviet past in service of the imperial aspirations of the post-Soviet present.

Long Abstract

In the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow, as the capital of the Russian Federation, has undergone a radical renovation. Among the most controversial and visible projects have been the destruction and reconstruction of symbolically charged structures as a means of appropriating and rewriting the past and thereby shaping the urban space into a vehicle for a new Russian imperial narrative. The recent firing of long-time Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, the force behind the transformation of the capital, throws into relief the vulnerability of the semiotic coherence of the post-Soviet Moscow city text. Controversies over such charged architectural projects as the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, destroyed by Stalin in the early 1930s, and the destruction and reconstruction of the Stalin era Hotel Moscow in the center of the city highlight the vexed intersection of tsarist and Soviet imperial narratives in the architectural landscape of contemporary Moscow. While critics have accused the Moscow of today of conceptual incoherence, this paper will argue that the dynamic city text of contemporary Moscow renders visible a narrative that seeks to reconcile usable pasts in the service of the everyday realities of the present.

Haifa with a Russian accent: from terra incognita to a home

Authors: Larisa Fialkova (The University of Haifa)  email
Maria Yelenevskaya (Technion, Israel Institute of Technology)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper traces the evolution of Russian presence in Haifa, Israel and discusses FSU immigrants' strategies in interactions with other ethnic groups. We explore how newcomers establish symbolic ties with the city through the institutions they have created to meet their cultural needs.

Long Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to trace the evolution of Russian presence in Haifa—Israel's third largest city. An industrial center and a seat of multinational hi-tech companies, Haifa met aspirations of upwardly mobile FSU immigrants of the 1990s for professional reintegration. In addition, it attracted primarily secular Russian Jews by its liberal policies toward non-observant residents. Finally, since most Russian Jews came from industrial centers they expected that Haifa would offer a variety of leisure activities and entertainment. Reality destroyed many of these hopes making newcomers feel marginalized and thrown to the bottom of the social ladder.

Based on participant observation, auto-ethnography and analysis of web sites, this paper discusses strategies chosen by FSU immigrants in domesticating Haifa and creating institutions that meet their everyday needs and cultural habits. We will analyze what stimulates and what hinders immigrants' interactions with members of different ethnic communities in Haifa, the city which remains socially and ethnically segregated despite its reputation of a haven for multiculturalism. Finally, we will look into the emergence and evolution of symbolic ties with the city demonstrated by Russian-speaking residents of Haifa. Whether it is memories of terrorist attacks, or tender nicknames given to various neighborhoods, exchange of graffiti comments on the walls or a heated internet discussion about the sites to be shown to visitors, the narrative of Russian Haifa is diverse and reveals that Russian-speaking residents are not only interested in the better quality of life in Haifa but also in uplifting its image.

(Trans-)formations of Jewish life in Slovakia after 1989: a case study

Author: Vanda Melo (Institute for European Ethnology (LMU Munich))  email
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Short Abstract

This ethnographic study analyses Jewish life in a multicultural postsocialist town in Slovakia. Remembrance culture, socio-cultural, economic and political past and present will be considered to understand changes in the Jewish community's religious and cultural life.

Long Abstract

The Jewish community of Košice, the second biggest town of Slovakia, had 12.000 members, 20% of the total population, before World War II.

Officially there are 280 people in the Jewish community today. Visitors can discover the rich Jewish history in many places, such as the cemeteries where the graves and their inscriptions reveal different religious affiliations of the past community and the wealth of many Jewish families.

In the city centre, there are many buildings that were constructed and used by the Jewish community. They do not only tell the story of the community's integration into everyday life in town but also carry visible marks of the Holocaust and the communist era of repression and destruction.

People´s biographies and their connection with all these places draw various images of remembering. What feelings and impact on Jewish lives and identity-construction do these places evoke? In what way are stories and the significance of these places rendered to the majority group? How do this minority's life and interaction with the majority emerge in the narratives? How have policies of the local officials regarding these places affected the life of the Jewish community?

Narrative biographical and "expert" interviews, participant observation, archive and media research, as well as the analysis of architecture and artefacts of the Jewish community will answer these questions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.