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European Margins and Multiple Modernities

‘European Margins and Multiple Modernities’

The inaugural workshop of the Eurovision and the ‘New’ Europe research network

Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey

February 18-19, 2011


'Keynote abstracts

Boiler House Theatre

February 18, 10 am

 'European Identity and Multiple Modernities: Cosmopolitanism and Postcolonial Critique'

Gurminder K Bhambra

In work spanning the first decade of the twenty-first century, Ulrich Beck has argued that a cosmopolitan approach is necessary to understand contemporary Europe and European identity. He identifies the project of a cosmopolitan Europe as replacing previously modern and postmodern conceptions of Europe and suggests that the idea of ‘cosmopolitan Europe’ is best understood in terms of being the institutionalization of the European tradition’s own internal critique. I take issue with Beck’s Cosmopolitanism because of its inability to deal with issues raised by a multicultural world deriving from a ‘Eurocentric’ definition of the cosmopolitan. He is not alone in his ‘Eurocentric’ definition of cosmopolitanism; in fact, in this regard, as we shall see, he is typical rather than unusual. However, what does make his work distinctive is that he places his argument in the context of an embrace of the idea of ‘multiple modernities’ and, in criticism of ‘multiculturalism’, both of which are central to my concerns. If we can now understand dominant approaches as Eurocentric, it is because of new voices emerging in wider political arenas and in the academy itself, which might now be regarded as beginning to emerge as a ‘multicultural’ space. More specifically, I argue that postcolonial scholarship, with its critique of Eurocentrism in particular, provides more adequate resources for making sense of our contemporary world and the thorny issue of European identity. The demise of colonialism as an explicit political formation has given rise to understandings of postcoloniality and, perhaps ironically, an increased recognition of the role of colonialism in the formation of modern Europe. Scholars such as Homi Bhabha and Walter Mignolo argue for the necessity of postcolonial or decolonial understandings as integral to the opening out and questioning of the assumptions of these dominant discourses. Such recognition, I suggest, is not present in most contemporary discourses on cosmopolitanism; what is required instead is a form of provincialized cosmopolitanism inspired by postcolonial critique.

Gurminder K Bhambra is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick and Director of the Social Theory Centre. Her research interests are primarily in the area of historical sociology and contemporary social theory and she is also interested in the intersection of the social sciences with recent work in postcolonial studies. She is the author of Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination (2007) which won the Philip Abrams Memorial Prize for best first book in sociology in 2008. She convenes an ESRC funded international research network on ‘Connected Histories /Connected Sociologies: Rethinking the Global’.

'All in the Family: Performing the New Europe at the Eurovision Song Contest'

Katrin Sieg

“United in diversity” can be understood as the EU’s official attempt to communicate the dual goals of supranational cohesion and respect for a political sovereignty still grounded in individual nation states. While arguably the two poles have begun to collapse into each other in political and economic terms, the Eurovision Song Contest seems to aim at symbolically stabilizing the tension and distinction between them. Does the ESC’s celebration of national culture (often equated with ethnic distinctiveness) merely cloak the actual loss of a democratic sovereignty grounded in the nation-state? Does the ESC’s investment in the nation symbolically compensate for the loss of democratic sovereignty brought about by European transnationalization, and reconcile Europeans to being politically managed in exchange for an intensified sense of cultural involvement? Or does this intensification of viewers’ affective attachment to Europe also generate scenarios of post-national sovereignty? What would these scenarios look like? At the ESC, romantic and familial metaphors are used to emphasize mutual attraction and organic cohesion among “old” and “new” Europeans, but the origin of these metaphors in colonial fantasies, which cemented racialized hierarchies between Germanic and Slavic peoples, for instance, also raises the specter of permanent inequality and dependence between present-day western and eastern Europeans. While the image of the family reinforces the concept of solidarity and risk sharing between “young” central and eastern European countries, and “mature” western European market economies, the promise implicit in the metaphor is that the dependent and vulnerable will eventually “grow up” into adults on equal footing with their “parents.” Yet convergence, the carrot alternating with the stick of economic shock therapy, has so far eluded Europe’s postsocialist children, who see themselves confronted with the prospect of arrested development and perpetual dependence. For this reason, a familial European imaginary has been invoked by those wishing to contest structural inequalities and abiding asymmetries of power. The presentation will look at how eastern Europeans have contributed to a discourse of the cosmopolitan European family, and unpack how these contributions construct shared European unity and national particularism. I will read performances that contribute to a discourse of European empire, but also examine those that attempt to queer familial metaphors in order to imagine postnational modes of sovereignty.

Katrin Sieg is Professor of German jointly affiliated with the German department and the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University (USA). She is the author of three books on 20th and 21st century German-language theater and performance, and has published in the areas of critical race studies, feminist and queer theory, and contemporary popular culture. Her most recent work focuses on immigrant and transnational performance art in Berlin.



Workshop: 2-5 pm

Large Board Room, Founder’s Building

Royal Holloway, University of London

'“European Enough?” The ESC and the gendered geopolitics of European modernity'

Luiza Bialasiewicz Royal Holloway, University of London

Distinct understandings of European modernity have always been essential in defining European identity: not only what Europe was, but also where it “began”, and where it “ended”. Presumed temporal divides have often served, indeed, as surrogates for spatial and political distinction. Ever since the late 18th century, the division of Europe into East and West bespoke not only a particular geography but also a particular temporal divide. As Maria Todorova argued in Imagining the Balkans, the East came to be identified “with industrial backwardness, lack of advanced social relations and institutions typical for the developed capitalist West, irrational and superstitious cultures unmarked by Western Enlightenment.” This, she suggested, “added an additional vector in the relationship between East and West: time, where the movement from past to future was not merely motion but evolution from simple to complex, backward to developed, primitive to cultivated.”

Although such explicitly colonial metaphors have (largely) disappeared, the habit of defining Europe and Europeans within a particular spatio-temporal matrix has tended to re-emerge in moments of geopolitical flux. For instance, the transitions of the early 1990s were inscribed within a distinct understanding of the Eastern and Central Europe states as somehow delayed, not-yet-European; having to learn European mores and behaviours (social, political, economic). Post 9/11 attempts at drawing lines in Europe such as Donald Rumsfeld’s evocation of New and Old Europes (on the eve of the invasion of Iraq) also rehearsed not only a geopolitical but also a spatio-temporal divide.

Such divides are also evident in the cultural realm, where geo-temporal notions of European progress are deployed to “measure” the presumed Europeanness of Eastern and Central European states’ cultural production. In particular, as Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska (2011) have recently argued, such categories of “European progress” are increasingly being inscribed in and through the sexual realm. In this sense, “Europeanisation” operates both as a “civilising” mission as well as a “pedagogical” one – teaching proper sexual citizenship, and proper understandings of gender roles and rights. European modernity, they argue, is increasingly being re-defined in sexual and corporeal terms, including “appropriate” European (gendered) performances.

In my comments, I look to the ways in which the Eurovision Song Contest has become an important geo-political platform for assessing Eastern European states’ appropriately gendered’ European performances, and thus for locating them within an imagined trajectory ‘towards’ Europe.

Dr. Luiza Bialasiewicz is Senior Lecturer in Political Geography in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and Director of the BSc in Geography, Politics and International Relations. Her main interests lie with the historical and political geographies of European integration and European geopolitics. Current research focuses on the ways in which evolving notions of EU border management are re-configuring understandings and practices of territorial sovereignty and international jurisdiction looking, in particular, at the “out-sourcing” of EU border controls in the Mediterranean and the Eastern neighbourhood.

'Back to the future: Imagining a new Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest?'

Yana Meerzon and Dmitri Priven, University of Ottawa

In the words of an influential Russian music critic, “The Popsa paradigm reflects the Russian state structure to the last detail: the inept, stealing puppeteers-producers (the nation’s leadership); the puppet-like serfs-artists (the Duma); the almighty television and the brainwashed population.” (Popsa is a derogatory Russian slang word denoting a type of popular music created for commercial success only, without any artistic merit.) Examining Russia’s self-imposed mandatory participation in the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) from 1994 to 2010, this presentation demonstrates how the Popsa paradigm – the creative, administrative, funding and media systems behind Russia’s ESC output - serves post-communist ideologists as a propaganda tool and a nation-building device. It discusses what Konstantin Ernst, the director of Channel 1 Russia, the major producer of Russian popular TV entertainment today, including the 2009 ESC, calls the “ESC formula of success” - the artistic, musical and performative norms and expectations around the ESC. These expectations, as this study argues, are in line with the ideological vector of the Popsa paradigm.

This presentation examines the “ESC formula of success” as it was used by Russian authorities to re-establish the pre-Perestroika image of the country (both on the home front and abroad) as the most competitive, progressive, and wealthy nation in Europe, and perhaps in the world. In this regard, this study recognizes the 2009 ESC held in Moscow as a stepping stone for Russia’s subsequent successful bids to hosting the University Games in 2013, the Winter Olympic Games in 2014, and the FIFA World Cup in 2018. It discusses Russia’s vision of the “ESC formula of success” in light of how Russia’s dominant ideologies position the country vis-à-vis the post-1989 European Union. This presentation suggests that Russia utilizes the ESC as a tool for positioning itself in the centre of a newly re-appropriated Eurasian geopolitical space, a space which corresponds to the former USSR, and one that Russia sees as alternative to the EU.

In addition to reviewing the literature on Russia’s involvement in the ESC, we analyze the official media coverage of the 2009 event in the context of the ideological trends apparent in recent entertainment programming on Channel 1 Russia.

Dr. Yana Meerzon is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre, University of Ottawa. Her research interests are in theatre and drama theory, theatre of exile, and Russian theatre and drama. Her book The Path of a Character: Michael Chekhov’s Inspired Acting and Theatre Semiotics was published in 2005. Her latest publication is a collection of articles (co-edited with Dr. Silvija Jestrovic, Warwick University, UK) entitled Performance, Exile and ‘America’ (Palgrave, 2009). Currently, her manuscript Performing Exile – Performing Self: Drama, Theatre, Film is under review with Palgrave, in the series Studies in International Performance.

Dmitri Priven (MA) teaches in and coordinates the Teachers of English as a Second Language program at Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada. He is currently writing a doctoral dissertation in the field of minority language education. He is a freelance literary translator from the Russian; his last major project was a new translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters for the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake (with Yana Meerzon, stage version by Susan Coyne). His translation of Dmitri Lipskerov’s novel «Последний сон разума» (The Last Sleep of Reason) has appeared in Toronto Slavic Quarterly.

'Competing for popularity: Intervision Song Contests'

Katalin Miklóssy, University of Helsinki

Probably the most interesting paradox of the Cold War was that in spite of the spectacular East-West dichotomy, there emerged a clear political and cultural interdependence, where continuous challenges required adequate responses from each side. One of the most interesting examples can be found in the sphere of popular culture. The socialist Intervision Song Contest was devised as a mirror-image of the Western Eurovision, partly because the communist countries could not participate in the latter competition. The Eurovision Contests, and Western popular culture more broadly, were frequently monitored in the Eastern Bloc, and Intervision was invented particularly to compete with Eurovision. This was due to a conceptual shift in the communist regime’s attitude towards society that emerged in the 1960s. Citizens' needs were re-evaluated at many levels, in an obvious attempt to acquire popular support.

This paper explores the point at which state-promoted popularity intersected with popularity from “below.” In the early 1960s interactive TV-shows, introduced from above, created new popular stars, who, with the eager cooperation of the media, led to a new industrial sector, the record industry.

Dr. Katalin Miklóssy is an adjunct professor of political history at the University of Helsinki, and researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute (the Finnish Centre of Russian and East European Studies). She is leading an international research project “Competition in Socialist Society” (2010-2012). Her recent publications include Reassessing Cold War Europe, co-edited with Sari Autio-Sarasmo (Routledge 2011) and The East and the Idea of Europe, co-edited with Pekka Korhonen (Cambridge Scholars 2010).



Workshop: 9:30 am – 1 pm

Large Board Room, Founder’s Building, Royal Holloway, University of London

'Images of Europe and the self: ESC as Turkey’s magic mirror'

Altug Akin, Autonomous University of Barcelona

My study views the Turkish experience of the ESC from the perspective of the perception of the national-self vs. the national-other. Turkey has been a regular ESC participant since 1975; the ESC serves as a major cultural battlefield where the country performs its everlasting desire to join “the European Club”, and as an annual temporary discursive space dominated by discussions about representations of ‘Turkishness’, perceptions of ‘Europeanness’ and the tension between them. In my presentation I offer a brief account of the history of Turkey’s engagement with the ESC, classified in five periods with different characteristics. In parallel to this historiography of the Turkish encounter with the ESC, I highlight the recurrent themes of public discussions about the ESC in Turkey. These will allow me to discuss the role of the ESC as a mirror for the social consciousness of the nation, a mirror highly mediated and thus magic.

Altug Akin holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management Information Systems from the Royal Institute of Technology, and in Journalism Studies from Stockholm University, both in Sweden. He has taught at Izmir University of Economics in Turkey. He is in the last year of his doctoral studies about Turkey’s ESC participation in the Faculty of Communication at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is a contributor to several media outlets including the BBC World Service Turkish Section, and is currently based in London working as producer for the BBC World Service.

'Constructing a very Estonian brand of multiculturalism on the Eurovision stage: A case study of Dave Benton'

Paul Jordan, University of Glasgow

Tanel Padar and Dave Benton’s victory for Estonia at the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest was lauded as a major breakthrough for the country by both political figures and the press. For then-prime minister Mart Laar, the event took on a huge and immediate political dimension: “Now we’re not just knocking on the door of the European Union, we will enter it by singing,” he proclaimed. In the streets of Tallinn, spontaneous parties broke out. This was much more than just any victory in a singing contest.

This paper will focus on Estonian rhetoric concerning its Eurovision victory. Drawing on my doctoral research, it will focus on debates surrounding multiculturalism and the wider narratives concerning Dave Benton, an immigrant originally from Aruba, asking to what extent Benton was made a symbol of Estonian multiculturalism. Multiculturalism in the Estonian context must also address the issue of the integration of the country’s Russian-speaking minority; however, even cursory examination of the media coverage surrounding Eurovision suggests that this was an ethnic Estonian event told on ethnic Estonian terms. I will also examine some of the content of the show staged in Tallinn in 2002, to explore what Estonia wanted to say to the world via its hosting of the Contest. By examining the story of Dave Benton we can begin to further understand the complexities surrounding identity, image and integration in Estonia in a post-EU accession context.

Paul Jordan is a doctoral researcher in the Department of Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow. His thesis examines issues of image building and national identity in Estonia and Ukraine. His research concentrates primarily on nation branding initiatives and the role that the Eurovision Song Contest plays in terms of promoting and refining the international image of the countries concerned. Paul has attended Eurovision since 2000 and has been a commentator on all things Eurovision for Russia Today, BBC Radio Scotland and will appear in the forthcoming documentary The Secret History of the Eurovision Song Contest.

“Becoming - Europe(an)”: West Balkan at the ESC

Vesna Mikić, University of Arts, Belgrade

Discourses generated by the EU as well as the ESC, in their (long) histories, have established and modified the terms in which Europe was regionalised and stratified. Recently, Serbia and other countries of the former Yugoslavia (as a part of the Southeastern European region but not EU members), face yet another situation of multiple denotation by being represented in these aforementioned discourses as “West Balkan”. The peoples of this region are used to living in such multiple realities of different state/civilizational communities and their respective geopolitical divides. Focusing on ESC entries from Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2004-2006, this presentation aims to read the geopolitical, historical, and cultural overlaying/strata that constitute and reflect their multiple West Balkan realities, through the Deleuzian strategy of “becoming.” Such a strategy creates multiplied, multilayered, ever-changing strata that are constantly in state of “becoming.” The temporary quality of Europe as conceptualised by the ESC — always being deterritorialized/ reteritorialized via the Contest’s diversified, multiplied and loose margins/centers and articulated via the televoting system — could be theorized as becoming-Europe. We can also understand these strategies as becoming-European, in that the songs analysed show, on the one hand, a high degree of decoding (in the Deulezian sense of detaching code from the mileu and putting it to another use) of Western popular music trends, and on the other, a decoding of traditional Balkan music elements. Furthermore, the of temporality of music enables multiple layering processes, hence making the analysis of different strata possible (ones that could be described as becoming-West Balkan music). Finally, via a concept of becoming-Europeans another strategy of becoming- reveals itself, this one articulated in processes of becoming-diaspora and becoming-West Balkan. For the people of the West Balkans lean heavily on their joint histories in which they were, incessantly involved in strategies of becoming-Yugoslav.

Dr. Vesna Mikić is associate professor at the Department of Musicolgy of the Faculty of Music, University of Arts in Belgrade. She teaches contemporary music history, studies of popular music, theories of popular arts and culture, and new media theory. She is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the international magazine for music, New Sound, and the author of Muzika u tehnokulturi (Music in Technoculture, University of Arts, Belgrade, 2004) and Lica srpske muzike: neoklasicizam (Faces of Serbian Music: Neoclassicism, Faculty of Music, 2009).

'A Critical Perspective on Malta’s Eurovision Song Contest Entries'

Toni Sant, University of Hull at Scarborough

Malta's Eurovision Song Contest story is not well known outside the Maltese islands, mainly because it has not been documented in any contextual depth, much less analyzed systematically. To understand some of the production decisions made in relation to Malta's ESC entries, an awareness of the political intricacies related to the formation of Malta postcolonial national cultural identity, as well as shifts in the country’s political aspirations between independence from the British Empire in 1964 and EU accession in 2004, is essential. Malta had its own (relatively silent) revolution at the end of the 1980s following 16 years of socialist quasi-totalitarianism and the rise of the first post-independence generation; this cannot be overlooked in discussing Malta's ESC re-entry in 1991, after 16 years of non-participation. There are also aspects of Malta's ESC participation that relate to the development of the country’s pop music scene, especially in relation to changes in song selection procedures since 1971. Within this context I plot out Malta's successes and failures, in an attempt to determine specific patterns that can help address the question of why certain Eurovision Song Contest entries make a greater impact on the pan-European audience of this TV show than others. Subsequently, I propose an evaluation scale with mimesis on one end and alterity on the other, assuming that mimesis and alterity are related opposites. Can mimesis and alterity be mapped out on a continuum to explore why specific manifestations of a community's culture are received the way they are, by their immediate audiences and audiences from other communities? How does one culture value another’s mimesis of its own alterity? When one culture imitates another, is it mimetic alterity or alteric mimesis? These questions are central to the creation of an evaluation model, which can be applied to examine why certain songs from different countries resonate better with audiences of different nationalities. Eventually, this evaluation scale can also be applied to ESC entries from other countries, or clusters, as well as performances of pop music and other popular entertainments not directly related to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Dr. Toni Sant is Director of Research at the University of Hull’s School of Arts and New Media. He worked as a professional broadcaster and musician across Europe and the US for almost two decades before taking up an academic career in performance and new technologies. Toni is a co-founder of the Eurovision Research Network, the current focus for his Eurovision Song Contest-related work, which dates back to his involvement in Malta’s return to the contest in 1991. In 2010 he created the Malta Music Memory Project, with support from the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts. He is the author of Franklin Furnace & the Spirit of the Avant-Garde: A History of the Future (Intellect/University of Chicago Press, 2011).