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

(P207)

Telling, remembering and presenting the past: nostalgia as a cultural practice

Location ID, Piso 0, Room 01
Date and Start Time 19 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto (University of Jyväskylä) email
Lena Marander-Eklund (Åbo Akademi University) email
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Short Abstract

In this session, we wish to discuss nostalgia and various ways of representing the past—materially, verbally, visually, through custom, habit, or enactment. We encourage papers that deal with the complexity of nostalgia, both in theoretical and practical ways.

Long Abstract

Nostalgia enables people to generate meaning in the present by drawing on selective visions of the past. Often the nostalgic impulse emerges during times of change, seeking continuity amid the threats of discontinuity, remembering or imagining a better past that serves as a critique of the present and a model for a preferable future. The intellectual history of nostalgia as a concept has its roots in seventeenth- through nineteenth-century medical and psychological discourse, and today it retains earlier connotations of pathology and aberration. Often seen as an emotional response, nostalgia may be dismissed, derided, or indeed attacked as a drain on the modernizing impulse, a romantic malaise. Lately, however, many scholars have joined in a re-evaluation of nostalgia, considering both cases in which nostalgia is enervating and reactionary and cases in which it is enabling and progressive. Nostalgia may be best appreciated in value-neutral terms as a cultural practice, not a given content, that may support or be supported by any number of agendas. In this session, we wish to discuss nostalgia and various ways of representing the past—materially, verbally, visually, through custom, habit, or enactment. We encourage papers that deal with the complexity of nostalgia, both in theoretical and practical ways. How do we recognize nostalgia? Does all reminiscence or commemoration involve nostalgia? When and why does nostalgia emerge, what needs does nostalgia meet, and to what ends is nostalgia used?

Chair: Lena Marander-Eklund & Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Nostalgia as motivation for changing the present: a study of oral storytellers in Denmark

Author: Lene Andersen (The Royal Library)  email
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Short Abstract

This study examines the meanings of nostalgia in connection to the renewed interest in oral storytelling in Denmark. Contemporary storytellers’ nostalgic images play an important role in their motivation to change the past through oral storytelling.

Long Abstract

References to the past are often observed in connection with contemporary oral storytelling in Denmark. The storytellers create nostalgic interpretations of the past, and this study investigates what meanings Danish oral storytellers attribute to nostalgia in connection with storytelling.

An image of people gathered around an idyllic fireplace was frequent during interviews, when storytellers were asked to imagine oral storytelling in the past. This image reveals some important clues as to what the storytellers are longing for. Among other things, it hints at the lack of electricity in past times. Present-day storytellers place storytelling in contrast to electricity and electronic equipment, which they feel are distorting human interaction and making people passive. To create other experiences for people of today the storytellers want to revive the storytelling tradition that they believe has died out. The storytellers do not want to reenact the past or relive the past. Instead, the past is used as a counter-image to modern life and makes it easier to talk about the wishes and values attached to storytelling. The idyllic images of storytelling in the past remind them that alternatives to modern lifestyles are possible. For the researcher, nostalgia can thus be used as a way to get insight into the storytellers' ideals and hopes for contemporary storytelling.

Folklore in the context of discontinuity: undermining the nostalgic gaze

Author: Dani Schrire (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines with the folkloristic practices of the Yeda Am folklore society formed in reaction to the Shoah in Tel Aviv in 1942. While their work engaged with loss, their drive to partake in the Zionist project as well as the folkloric material in itself constricted nostalgic sentiments.

Long Abstract

The "Yeda Am" folklore society was established in 1942 in Tel Aviv as a direct reaction to the Shoah (Holocaust). Soon, its members were engaged in many activities that dealt with places they lost - mostly, engaging with traditions and folklore. In the context of a break in continuity, many of the public events they organized (e.g. commemorating lost Jewish communities) and published work were concerned with the feeling of loss - loss of life, loss of homelands and loss of verbal and material culture.

It is therefore tempting to place such scholarly activity under the rubric of 'nostalgia'. However, rarely do these scholars consider their drive to be nostalgic; typically they resented it. In fact, in Zionist discourse which they shared - they left "the Diaspora" to live in the "Homeland" - reversing typical models of a Diaspora longing for a homeland left behind.

By scrutinizing the motivations of these scholars, tracing the material objects, practices and transformations that occur in their scholarly activity, I would like to suggest that much of their folkloristic practices may resemble models of a Diaspora longing for a lost homeland. However, much of the folkloric material itself undermines the notion of nostalgia. Thus, contrary to historical outlooks that could sketch a positive-selective picture, a great deal of the folklore they dealt with subverted attempts to rehabilitate a lost Jewish past. Moreover, expressing nostalgic sentiments jeopardized their attempt to harness folklore to Zionist nation-building.

The perspectives of nostalgia and of cultural heritage to the narratives of a past dance culture

Author: Helena Saarikoski (Partuuna cultural cooperative)  email
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Short Abstract

Two perspectives to past traditions, of nostalgia and of cultural heritage, will be juxtaposed and compared here in the light of the case of the Finnish dance culture called Pavilion Dances, popular in the 20th century. Nostalgia is defined as an emotion, longing for the unreachable, while heritage refers to the use the past can be put to serve.

Long Abstract

I will talk about my ongoing study of popular dance culture in Finland in the 20th century. The research material consists of reminiscent texts that were written, by more than 500 respondents, to an inquiry titled "Pavilion Dances", of the Finnish National Board of Antiquities, in 1991. The writers tell about dancing in their youth; the narrated events took place between 1930 and 1970. The study is defined as historic-ethnographic: on the focus are individuals' experiences in particular dance events in the remembered past. Here, I intend to analyze the narrated nature of the research material, and the ensuing narrative approach, by concentrating on nostalgia as an emotion and a narrative device in the writings. Folklorist Jyrki Pöysä has argued that folkloristic and ethnological research is largely defined by nostalgia, in the aim of preserving the "disappearing traditions" of agrarian society; but that today, the perspective of cultural heritage is a new and different perspective from nostalgia. Now, since the pavilion dance culture was acutely declining by the time of the inquiry, this can be seen to have set the stage for nostalgia as a prevalent mood of telling about the dances. Still, the narrators are not simply responding to a call for nostalgia, but in many ways modifying and contesting such a call. The dance culture has been put to serve, not only as an object for longing for the unreachable past, but also as a means for creating a desired kind of future.

Waterfront nostalgia

Author: Tytti Steel (University of Helsinki)  email
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Short Abstract

I shall discuss the elements of nostalgia connected with Finnish harbours in the 1950s. The nostalgic views emphasize the physically hard work and the “clear” gender roles. Harbour-nostalgia intertwines with a craving for exoticism and a critique of modern society’s alleged lack of communality.

Long Abstract

In my paper I shall discuss the elements of nostalgia connected with Finnish harbours of the 1950s. At the time Finland was relatively cut off from the rest of the Europe and most international traffic was conducted by sea. For working class people, working as a sailor was one of the few possibilities to travel abroad.

At the beginning of the decade was still a dearth of goods after the Second World War, but many commodities unavailable in the shops could be bought from sailors in the ports. In Finland, unlike in many other countries, ports were open to the public and were a popular environment for Sunday walks and exciting "playgrounds" for children.

In reminiscence the role of ports in the growing economy is emphasized. The foreign cultural influences and the harbour town's acclaimed tolerance are used to mark a difference between the town and the surrounding countryside or the inland towns. Connected to the ports, nostalgia intertwines with a craving for exoticism and constructs a counter-image of inward-looking and agrarian Finland.

The physically hard work — in the harbours and at home — is glorified and presented as an axiomatic basis of living. The present way of living and the working life of the younger generations are seen as too easy. Some nostalgic views are also a longing for the "clear" gender roles of the 1950s. The nostalgic reminiscences can also be interpreted as a strong critique of modern society's alleged lack of communality.

The Macanese community: memory, identity and ambivalence

Author: Marisa Gaspar (Orient Institute (ISCSP-ULisboa) )  email
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Short Abstract

The present paper will explore the autobiographical and social memory of Macanese individuals, in an attempt to show how as a community they present us with a constantly mutating entity whose own continuity depends on ethnic identity management in a multi-ethnic context.

Long Abstract

This paper shall focus on the process of memory and ethnic identity among the Macanese community. The profound links of this small bilingual community (Portuguese and Cantonese) to the former Portuguese colony of Macao are explicitly acknowledged in the Portuguese term most commonly used to refer to them: filhos da terra or sons and daughters of the soil (in Cantonese 'tou-saang pouh-gwok-yahn' or 'soil-born Portuguese'. Historically, the Macanese community emerged out of complex historical phenomena of blending of European (mostly Portuguese) and Asian (mainly Chinese and Southeast Asian) elements, from the sixteenth century onwards. This blending gave rise to a somewhat distinctive Eurasian appearance, although it is often difficult to identify the Macanese solely by their physical appearance. It also inspired the development of a series of 'hybrid' cultural traditions including a distinct dialect (the patuá). Because of this alleged 'hybridity', the ethnic identity of the Macanese people often comes across as somewhat ambivalent. In this paper, we shall explore the question of how social representations of Macanese identity are interpreted and disseminated through memory, what kind of memories are associated with that identity, and how have these memories been used and transformed since the 1999 handover of Macau to the People's Republic of China. Our goal will be to analyse the changing configurations of Macanese identity as they are experienced and produced by people through the combined workings of individual and collective memory.

Longing for the past: the Kalevala and the folk lyric

Author: Niina Hämäläinen (Finnish Literature Society)  email
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Short Abstract

In my paper, I will discuss how nostalgia and longing for the past were included in the Kalevala and how Elias Lönnrot operated on these elements to represent the Kalevala as true and authentic.

Long Abstract

In my presentation, I discourse Elias Lönnrot's textual strategies to represent the Kalevala as true and authentic. A detailed research analysis of selected authentic folk lyric poems, Lönnrot's writings on folk lyric and the Kalevala provide for examples and evidence on these strategies.

 

Elias Lönnrot used the Finnish folk lyric poems and the poetics of folk singers for the Kalevala in order to obtain traditional content for the epic. The intellectual audience of the Kalevala, which was neither familiar with folk poetry, nor with common people or their lifes, admired and glamorized the folk poetry of the Kalevala by considering it as a representation of old, sensitive poetry of the Finnish people. This referred especially to the lyrical poems. 

For Lönnrot and his collegues folk poems represented a collective endeavour. The collective was synonymous to a quest to present something universal, something which existed and could be shared and experienced by everybody. Lönnrot was quoted to claim that "lyric songs are not made [by someone] but songs are made by themselves; there is no author behind them. If we call a specific author for them, songs will lose their value as folk poems. This is said especially about lyric songs---."

 

For Lönnrot the lyric songs especially did not only express emotion, they were the emotion. By emphasizing the shared collective nature of the lyric and by applying the selected textual strategies, Lönnrot aspired to present the Kalevala as the shared emotions of the Finnish people. 

Travelling practices and dreams of the past: un-packing 'colonial nostalgia' in Malacca (West Malaysia)

Author: Ema Claúdia Ribeiro Pires (Universidade de Évora e CRIA)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on anthropological fieldwork in progress (2006-2009) this paper deals with processes of production, appropriation and re-production of 'colonial nostalgia' in the city of Malacca (West Malaysia). From this empirical setting, I discuss the concept of 'colonial nostalgia'.

Long Abstract

Building upon Michael Hertzfeld's concept of 'structural nostalgia' (2005), and Renato Rosaldo's notion of 'imperial nostalgia' (1989), this paper proposes a critical look on 'Colonial Nostalgia'. Emphasis is put in the production of 'colonial nostalgia' among Malacca Portuguese Eurasians. I will attempt to do though the analysis of travelling and writing practices (during the 20th Century). A second level of analysis deals with contemporary uses and re-appropriations of colonial nostalgia, either though tourism process and/or identity politics. A third level of analysis is drawn by methodological and epistemological concerns in approaching nostalgia, as a cultural practice. Following the intellectual history of the concept, I discuss how translatable is this concept, from a Eurasian perspective.

The tale of the strong woman: identity and time in women's narratives from Maale, Ethiopia

Author: Sophia Thubauville (Frobenius-Institut an der Goethe Universität)  email
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Short Abstract

Following Lowenthal (1985) in his assumption that the past is a foreign country, this paper would like to show by interpreting women’s narratives that time is of equal importance to place in the identification of people.

Long Abstract

It seems to be a universal that the past is idealized while the present - and especially young generations of people - are criticized. While conducting field research among the Maale people of southern Ethiopia on the life cycle and life histories of women, the idealization of the past and especially of the behavior of past people was an ever mentioned issue. Listening to women's narratives about the past, one might not only feel taken to another time, but the past often seems so different that one feels taken to another place. The described past, its people and practices differ so much from the present that one can get the impression that the past is a 'foreign country', another place instead of another time (Lowenthal 1985).

In the following paper I would like to share with the reader three rejoinders of my Maale informants that tell about transformations of different life stages of Maale women. By these three examples I will show that old women (minna lali), who grew up under different circumstances as the women of today (hatsa lali) and followed customs that have disappeared or changed today, distance themselves from the women of today and their changing way of life. Instead they identify with the past and lost customs and criticize transformations. The paper concludes that time is as important as place for the identification of an individual.

In the name of Grandma

Author: Bogdan Iancu (National School of Political Studies and Public Administration Bucharest / Museum of Romanian Peasant )  email
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Short Abstract

The question which I will try to answer in the presentation: How and why is Grandma, with the surrounding traditions, an added value in recent food marketing in Romania?

Long Abstract

In recent years "traditional" food products enjoyed a major success, both as part of the Slow Food movement (recently introduced to the Romanian food market) and as part of the food industry. Multinationals are trying to use this capital to tame the image of their products which press articles in recent years define as a sum of chemical ingredients (i.e. unhealthy) and tasteless. In the process of commodification, traditions have imposed some types who slowly entered the urban folklore and gastronomy. Among these figures, the grandmother - be it urban or rural version - has been imposed as an icon on a wider range of products: soups, oils, Christmas cake, cheeses. Grandma becomes a powerful metaphor of eating healthy or (at least) tasty, a good object to commodify and consume. Grandma gives cultural distinction: in several marketing scenarios she is seen as an administrator of the secrets around good taste and the management secrets of a typical product of good taste. Her recipes are reminiscent of dreamy dream.

The question which I will try to answer in the presentation: How and why is Grandma, with the surrounding traditions, an added value?

"I am a person of transition": identity and belonging of history teachers in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan

Author: Damira Umetbaeva (Georg-Eckert Institute)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will explore history teachers' identity and their feelings toward the Soviet system as well as the post-Soviet order in Kyrgyzstan. It will be based on the analyses of life-story interviews with the teachers who have experience of living and teaching during the Soviet Union as well as after it.

Long Abstract

The research paper will be based on findings from the research for my PhD project on Teaching the Soviet History at Secondary Schools in Kyrgyzstan. One aspect of my PhD project is to study history teachers' memories of the late Soviet period with the help of life-story interviewing methodology. History teachers inhabit a unique position as mediators between state and society as well as between collective and biographical memory. With regard to the Soviet past, I explore how cultural categories of perception influenced the ways in which individuals thought and acted in everyday life. With regard to the post-Soviet present, I analyze how cultural patterns shape the social practice of remembering everyday life in the Soviet Union.

The success or failure of state socialization measures depends decisively on how conscientiously history teachers play their role as mediators and how they convey these interpretative models to students. History teachers cannot, however, be reduced to their professional role. They are also individuals with unique biographies and specific experiences which most likely influence their professional role as conveyors and translators of state agendas. In this respect, they function as immensely interesting indicators in the question concerning the ways in which official images of history are conveyed, broken, amplified, reinterpreted, or pluralized in state-run schools.

Teachers from different regions of the country, of different nationalities, age groups and gender are interviewed for the project. The paper will analyse what their civic and national identity is and their feelings toward the Soviet times as well as the post-Soviet order in Kyrgyzstan.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.