Ethnology and anthropology in Europe: towards a trans-national discipline.

Author:Capo, Jasna

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 Most of the former socialist countries in that area have joined the European Union, but this does not preclude the outdated notion of the "East" being widely used.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. The idea that "Westerners cannot really learn anything from those backward Easterners since their paradigm is outdated (both nationalist and positivist at the same time)" is not unique (Buchowski 2004, 10). At an earlier period, it was also used with regard to Southern Europe, e.g. John Davies stated: "... a contemporary ethnographer from France and England or America, carrying the very latest lightweight intellectual machine gun in his pack, may be suddenly confronted by a Tylorean or Frazerian professor appearing like a Japanese corporal from the jungle to wage a battle only he knows is still on" (Buchowski 2004, 10).

In the article, I comment on that debate between Western, mainly British anthropologists and their colleagues in CEE. Revolving mainly around postsocialist studies, it has revealed voices from CEE critical of the hierarchies that reflect political and economic power differentials in the academic arena. Those voices (Buchowski 2004, 2012a; Prica 1995, 2006, 2007), at first isolated, have now become not only more concerted (Kurti and Skalnik 2009a; Kurti 2008; Baskar 2008; Pobtocki 2009), but have also been backed by those coming from the "centres" of anthropological production in Europe (Dressler 2000; Ruegg 2014). The latter compare the imposition of Western anthropological models on CEE ethnologies to a kind of post-colonial practice.

By and large, the debate has been led between ethnologists in CEE countries and their counterparts in the British-style tradition of social anthropology. A notable figure in that tradition is Chris Hann around whom much of the debate sparked. Throughout the paper I use "anthropology" to mean social (cultural) anthropology in the sense of the discipline conventionally studying other societies and cultures. Anthropology will also be used as a metonym for the British (sometimes also the American) strand of the discipline, to which I will sometimes also refer to as the Western strand. Ethnology, on the other hand, will be used in reference to CEE countries and to disciplinary traditions dealing with national cultures. Reference to Western and Eastern disciplines will be utilized as a convenient and economical means of expression, with implications of symbolic intra-European boundaries but without any implications of homogeneity of either one or the other. As I develop my argument, I use ethnology and anthropology more and more interchangeably, as well as connecting them in the phrase "ethno-anthropology" to indicate a convergence of the two in terms of theories, epistemology, and methodology.

The European debate over Eastern ethnological and Western anthropological traditions has not involved the French tradition of national ethnology or European ethnology (Europaische Ethnologie, formerly Volkskunde, in some countries folklore studies) with its different yet converging national disciplines practiced in German-speaking, Scandinavian and Low countries. This omission can be understood in terms of the academic and cultural prestige of Anglo-American social and cultural anthropology and the sheer numbers of anthropologists writing in the hegemonic English language, of CEE colleagues studying in the UK or US rather than in Germany, France or Sweden, and, last but not the least, in terms of the Anglo-American space viewed as a primary paragon to be imitated by CEE (comp. Giordano 2014, 239). It is also to be found in the ambivalent position of European ethnology as "not quite" cultural anthropology though evolving in conversations with it (Frykman 2012). Maybe this lack of reference to ethnology in other European countries on both the Western and the Eastern side of the debate about proper ethno-anthropological practice is due to European ethnology's own past as a nationally oriented discipline without a colonial agenda and the endogenous critique that it underwent some decades ago, which brought it, as judged by Ullrich Kockel, Mairead Nic Craith and Jonas Frykman, thematically, theoretically and methodologically in alignment with cultural anthropology (Kockel et al 2012a, 3). Finally, perhaps this omission occurred because CEE ethnologies consider themselves a branch of European ethnology--and are considered by British social anthropologists as such. Indeed, that might have been so for when Chris Hann discovered that Germany had two historically well-established strands of anthropological sciences (Volkskunde/Europaische Ethnologie and Volkerkunde/social anthropology), which occupy parallel niches in the academic arena and resist unification until this day, he was fascinated and bewildered (Hann 2002, 2003). I wonder if his perception of the fields in Germany had an impact on his perception of ethnological sciences in CEE, and led him to stress their differences with regard to British social anthropology and, more recently, to propose cross-fertilization of the two disciplinary strands (Hann 2012, 2013, 2014).

The presentation of debates between ethnology and anthropology or Eastern European and Western European styles of anthropology will not be exhaustive, since a rich production on these topics is becoming more and more insuperable. There is also a language barrier limiting what I can read; unfortunately, my language competences do not include most national languages spoken in CEE, so that I have consulted almost exclusively what my colleagues from those countries have published in English. I refer especially to more recent volumes and articles without attempting to give a diachronic overview of the long-lasting, complex and somewhat sterile debate that has been going on since the beginning of the 1990s. I argue that by reiterating the old division between the "East" and the "West," either by discussing it, by presenting anthropologists/ethnologists from only one side of the imagined intra-European borderline, by giving advice as to how anthropology should be practised...

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