Revisiting the Nation: Transcultural Contact Zones in Eastern Europe, Bucharest 2018

Revisiting the Nation: Transcultural Contact Zones in Eastern Europe

26 February to 6 March 2018, Bucharest

Prisma Ukraïna – Research Network Eastern Europe, Berlin and the Center for Governance and Culture in Europe, Universität St. Gallen, in cooperation with the New Europe College, Bucharest invited doctoral and postdoctoral scholars from the fields of anthropology, economics, geography, history, literature, political sciences, social psychology, sociology and other disciplines to apply for an international Winter Academy titled: “Revisiting the Nation: Transcultural Contact Zones in Eastern Europe”. The Academy
was convened from 26 February to 7 March 2018 in Bucharest, Romania.

Ever since Mark von Hagen asked “Does Ukraine Have a History?” in 1995, there has been much debate about what constitutes Ukraine as a nation. In light of recent developments, it might seem that in Ukraine, this question is of particular significance. Still, it is important to understand that in the European context, Ukraine is not a special case in its nation building effort. Instead, it is exemplary in terms of its multiculturality, entangled histories, and the ever-changing relation between state and society.
With regard to Eastern Europe, the preoccupation with ‘the nation’, its history and identity, and with similar categories that imply monolithic entities (state, culture, language) in political, social and even academic discourse has been prevalent at least since the final years and collapse of the Eastern bloc. It has been visible in a search for homogeneity and ‘essences’ in cultural, historical or political terms – a search that eventually seeks to discover true national identity and the sovereign subject, as well as its past and future. Yet these efforts are thwarted by the realities in situ. It is not only that the newly found sovereignty of those nation states coincides with greater alignment with international legal, economic and military standards – what has been termed ‘voluntary imperialism’ (Cooper). Concepts like Mary Louise Pratt’s ‘contact zones’ (with their emphasis on transculturation, hybridity, and mediation) likewise draw attention away from monolithic concepts of nation and culture. Instead, they point to how cultural practices permeate and inform each other at the local level, how they are being (re)negotiated and hegemonic discourses and power relations subverted by overt or implicit alternatives.
The ongoing transformations and cultural and political processes in Ukraine as well as in many places in Eastern Europe take place in this field of unresolved tension that causes constant frictions and renegotiations. This poses a very specific and potentially very productive challenge to Eastern European Studies – one that can benefit from the integration of various concepts and highly different disciplinary approaches.

The Academy’s rationale was to gather young scholars from diverse disciplines and with diverse approaches in order to facilitate exchange and contribute to a fuller picture of current transformations in the region. The aim was to challenge assumptions; to overcome simplifying categories and explanations; and to open discussion on new perspectives and research questions. Together, we wanted to reflect on the complexity and ambiguous nature of entanglements in historically grown condensed spaces of multinational (post-)imperial border regions and search for new vocabularies to grasp the diverse trajectories of their political and cultural developments. In this, Ukraine was in the main focus, but research on other countries and regions was welcome as well.

The Winter Academy was chaired by a group of scholars that included Pascal Bonnard (Jean Monnet University, Saint Etienne), Rory Finnin (University of Cambridge), Susanne Frank (Humboldt University, Berlin), Olena Haleta (Ivan Franko University, Lviv), Andrii Portnov (Prisma Ukraïna; European University Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder), Ulrich Schmid (Centre for Governance and Culture in Europe, University of St. Gallen), and Annette Werberger (European University Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder).


Ewa Dabrowska
Prisma Ukraïna – Research Network Eastern Europe
Wallotstr. 14
14193 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 89 001-428
F: +49 (0)30 89 001-440

Located at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, the Center for Governance and Culture in Europe (GCE) collaborates with researchers in Germany, Vienna, the U.S., and the Black Sea region since its establishment in 2011. Affiliated members collaborate on a range of interdisciplinary projects, including State Capture and Corruption in Russia, and Transcultural Contact Zones in Ukraine. The GCE seeks to foster cooperation between humanities and social science researchers in Switzerland and individual states in the Black Sea region.

The New Europe College (NEC) Bucharest is an independent Romanian institute for advanced study in the humanities and social sciences founded in 1994 by Professor Andrei Pleşu. NEC aims to contribute to the development of research and higher education in Romania and in South-Eastern and Eastern Europe by: a) supporting individual research at an advanced level through national, regional and international fellowship programs; and b) hosting research teams and focus groups working on innovative and cooperative projects. NEC also aims to foster the development and strengthening of the civil society in the post-communist countries of South-Eastern and Eastern Europe.

Prisma Ukraïna – Research Network Eastern Europe links academics from numerous universities and research institutions in Berlin, Brandenburg and beyond who focus in their work on Ukraine and Eastern Europe. We provide spaces for interdisciplinary research with comparative approaches and thus seek to contribute to a language that does justice to the complexity of the region as a whole and opens up transregional perspectives. Prisma Ukraïna has been initiated and is being headed by the historian and long-term Fellow of the Forum Transregionale Studien Dr. Andrii Portnov.

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