Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Ethnology and Anthropology in Europe: Towards a Trans-National Discipline

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Ethnology and Anthropology in Europe: Towards a Trans-National Discipline

Article excerpt

Though twenty-five years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, entrenched Cold War divisions remain in place on the European continent. One encounters still the notion of a European "East" that is different from the "West." It refers not to the geographic but the symbolic European "East," a former space of communist ideology and socialist societies. In geographic terms, it includes Central and Eastern Europe (from now on referred to as CEE, both in the adjectival and substantival form). Most of the former socialist countries in that area have joined the European Union, but this does not preclude the outdated notion of the "East" being widely used. The polarity "West"-"East" stands for many opposites: centre/core vs. periphery/margin, capitalism vs. former socialism (today post-socialist/post-communist space), democratic vs. undemocratic, developed vs. backward, modern vs. traditional. Its implications have persisted a quarter of a century after the ideological-political boundary nominally disappeared and in spite of recent regional realignments and developments, which underscore (old/new) divides along the North-South and EUnon-EU axis (with the non-EU space becoming smaller with each new country's entry into the EU). However, it seems that "for the core members of the EU, the traditional West, new members will remain part of East-Central Europe, or Eastern Europe, for obvious economic, political and cultural reasons" (Kurti and Skalnik 2009a, 1). The "East"-"West" divide in Europe seems to exist in academic circles as well.

The former political and ideological borderline between the West and the East had an impact on different academic fields, two of which are more familiar to me--anthropology/ethnology and demography. Historical demographers proposed spatial distributions and cultural divisions of the European territory, demonstrating a preoccupation with establishing historical, cultural, and disciplinary borders in Europe, which were essentially based on the exemplary ideological border prevalent until the 1990s. That borderline distinguished between diverse demographic and family systems in historical and contemporary Europe (see Szoltysek 2012 for a critical review). The "Eastern European" demographic and family space were perceived as homogeneous and were characterised by marriage at an early age, large proportions of married people and large and complex family systems. Proponents of such an image of the family system in the "East" sometimes referred to it as a "non-European" system. On the other side of the borderline, running between St. Petersburg and Trieste, they found, not unexpectedly, a system that they named "European."

Anglo-American anthropologists sometimes do the same as historical demographers and "flippantly utilize Europe simply to mean Western Europe or the European Union" (Kurti 2008, 30). They differentiate "Western" anthropological (social/cultural, depending on the viewpoint) from the CEE ethnological and folkloristic scopes of enquiry, which they relegate to second-class anthropology and bracket out as relevant knowledge. Aligned with this discourse is a range of contrastive qualities attributed to one or the other side: the small, national(istic), positivist, atheoretical and outdated ethnologies of the East are contrasted to the metropolitan, theoretical, cosmopolitan and modern anthropologies of the West (Hann 2003, 2005; Stocking Jr in Baskar 2008; Buchowski 2004; Kurti 2008; Poblocki 2009). In addition, the first are thought of as not being "proper anthropology" because they have purportedly never dealt with other cultures, confining themselves rather within the limits of their own national cultures (Hahn 2005). Defending the study of the Other as a hallmark of anthropology, even at a time when social anthropology has come "home" (to study domestic terrains), British anthropologists indeed show a curious fascination with CEE and its allegedly nationalistic, navel-gazing, atheoretical ethnologies. …

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