» Project Description
MEMORY PRACTICES IN AN INTERCULTURAL CONTEXT. CASE STUDY: THE BANAT
Grant CNCSIS Type A, code 545, multiannual grant 2006-2008
The period of time Romania has been going through in the past 15 years implies important socio-cultural transformations, still insufficiently or only partially studied, without attempting at finding the links between the noted phenomena and relating them to a context wider than the initial one used for the field of research. We consider that the study of memory practices of various types, from the perspective of how they include and reinvent a local intercultural tradition, relating it to new reference frameworks, is the ideal way to get over the limitations of this theme in various disciplines, as well as to explore the connections memory has with history, with identity themes, with changing mentalities, with the reconfiguration of the range of values deemed important by the society at a given moment. Considering memory as a form of remodelling the past and reconstructing the identity, approaching the theme from an interdisciplinary perspective with the support of previous research, putting together the results of the research and attempting a synthesis at a superior level of the team members’ interests and prior results, we believe we can bring theoretical and practical clarifications in areas such as:
- the status of memory practices in relationship with other cultural practices (folklore, literary, historiographic, political)
- the analysis of new social dynamics, of types of mentalities and behaviours associated with various memory practices, of the way in which the theme of identity is developed and applied. This last aspect is also important for the understanding of the way in which the competition for memory in various social or ethnic groups implies the assertion of a set of values as factors of social cohesion and periodical symbolic reconfigurations of the past in specific contexts of action. The theme of identity is interesting in the sense of the connections that can be made at a local – regional – national- European level. Associated with the theme of memory, it is of special interest in a pluriethnic context such as the object of our study, in a Romanian frontier region, which gained symbolic prestige after its involvement in the 1989 Revolution and where the economic and social dynamics, as well as the dynamics of European integration are prominent.
Apart from the reflection upon the above-mentioned theoretical aspects, whose clarification is important for the preparation and completion of the planned MA programme and the coordination of PhD candidates, the project members intend to offer a counselling data base for the Romanian and foreign researchers visiting the area, for other individuals interested in the cultural history of the region and in the development of regional cultural projects, which implies preparing and presenting the information in such a way as to meet the expectations of this type of public. We intend to get in touch with other regional specialists to create a network of experts that could be activated whenever necessary. We will try to put together the results obtained until the present moment and to organize them in a data base that would work as an interface between the scientific community and the local administration or the cultural institutions that are active in the region, also in the sense of suggesting projects or innovating communication practices with the help of memory.
As it can be noticed from the structure of the team, all requirements are met for an efficient interdisciplinary study. All those involved in the project worked before on the theme of memory from the angle of their own discipline, published and participated in research projects where they had to focus on the theme under theoretical scrutiny. The team members are also accustomed to working together, which helped them build a team spirit and take part in various actions together, doing research, publishing, organizing exhibitions and conferences, especially around the nucleus created by the Third Europe Foundation, but also by cooperating with the French and German Cultural Centres in the city, with the Interart Triade Foundation, with the University of the West in Timisoara, or with the Highland Banat Museum in Resita. As they are also teachers at the University of the West in Timisoara, the experience they have gained manifested itself both at an organizational level (in the sense of developing external connections with the Universities of Plovdiv, Freiburg, Dresden or Paris IV Sorbonne) and, more importantly, in the sense of elaborating an interdisciplinary work model, of involvement in the undergraduates’, MA or PhD students’ research projects (within the Third Europe Foundation, C. Ungureanu, A. Babeti , S. Vultur ran MA programmes on the theme of memory in Central Europe; all PhD students working on theses on this theme attended these courses for at least one year). Both aspects make us strongly believe in the success of the project.
Applying this experience in the institutional framework of the university will be stimulating and emulating, encouraging individuals to get beyond the rigid borders between various departments and faculties and facilitating the communication among generations. The PhD candidates in the team will be able to complete chapters of their dissertations having access to the archives we provide and taking part in their development and in a group reflection upon issues regarding the clarification of concepts and applying their research activity outside their specific field of study. They will be thus encouraged to participate, alongside with the mature members of the group, in the elaboration of projects and innovatory cultural actions.
Although in the past few years the interest in memory and identity issues has increased in Eastern Europe and many volumes of memory or oral history have been published, what is missing is a piece of work with a synthetic character that would bring together the researchers’ efforts in order to conduct a critical survey of what has been already written. More attention was paid to symbolic memory and to policies of administrating memory (Pippidi, Verdery, Bucur). We can also notice an increased interest in the petty memory, in the use of personal or family archives as sources of a history of every-day life (Valeriu Leu) or a history of communities. The emphasis in the research on memory was put especially on the relationship between memory and history or between memory and politics. The forms of memory management have not been subject to a systematic approach that would draw conclusions about the changes in the Romanian society they analyse or signal. Even more ignored were the numerous private initiatives to reintegrate a local or regional memory (sometimes even the family memory) that had been repressed for a long time, as well as the numerous initiatives of ethnic associations to use memory as a support for identity redefinition.
The volumes of oral history we have published following the more detailed research on Germans, Romanians and Jews (Vultur), but also on other communities such as the Serbians, Hungarians, or Catholic Bulgarians, convinced us that the strategies of each group and the hierarchies they establish for various discursive memory practices are very diverse, using various criteria for defining or redifing their identity. The role the relationship with the different Other has in this context has been analysed with the tools of social psychology in the works of Alin Gavreliuc. This aspect is all the more interesting to look at from the perspective of interculturalness, a very popular field of research (for the Banat see Poledna, Ruegg, Rus ed., 2002), without drawing conclusions about the value attributed to this phenomenon in various historical periods and about the context in which it started to work as a facilitator of interethinic relations.
Insufficient attention was paid to the diversification of the groups shaping and competing for memory (they are not exclusively ethnic groups) and to the influence various official memory practices have on others, with a private or semi-private character, the memory discourses tending to shape one after another. There is a tendency that each group would study itself, writing monographies or studies in its own language, without any interest in knowing or communicating a common history or in facilitating the perception of this difference in the Other. We tried, with the help of interviewing practices, to turn this autarchic model of communication into an intercultural one, the research team members addressing interlocutors who are different in terms of age, ethnicity, religion, or social status. The memory practices are usually studied separately, without always taking into account the specific communication rules they obey and the different manner in which they integrate and define the space of memory. Also insufficient is the effort to bring together several types of memory sources in order to compare them with one another before drawing conclusions about the validity of arguments or the truth value of reconstructing the past.
These are only some of the aspects that concern us and for which we are trying to find new solutions with the help of the project we are putting forward.
Conf.dr. Smaranda Vultur