Reporting from SIEF 2019

by Alastair Mackie, LINCS/IRC PhD student

A group of colleagues from the IRC participated in the biannual conference of SIEF, the International Society of Ethnology and Folklore, in Santiago de Compostela, in April 2019. The theme of the conference was “Track Changes: Reflecting on a Transforming World”.

The conference had a very welcoming atmosphere, despite the sheer size of it. Although I have only been working on my research for just over a year, there were several familiar faces present and I quickly felt at home. Amongst those attending there was a large delegation from Scotland, not only from the IRC but also many from the Elphinstone Institute in Aberdeen. For it really being a small country, it always surprises me how many ethnologists there are in Scotland. Discussing our work with peers from nearby and far away is always rewarding. For me, these are the most valuable experiences of such a conference, more so than the presentations I attend.

The IRC had a very strong presence in SIEF 2019, as was the case in past conferences. We presented a large variety of research using different methods.Chiara Cocco presented a paper on “Pilgrimage as a means of memory of dark heritage: the case study of Misija Sibiras in Lithuania”. This paper focuses on the expeditions to Siberia organized by the Lithuanian organization Misija Sibiras (Mission Siberia). Chiara interprets these journeys as secular pilgrimages through which young Lithuanians commemorate their past and deal with the painful heritage of their country.

Cait McCullagh presented a paper on Tracking futures at 60 Degrees North – co-curation across Orkney and Shetland: collaboratively deliberating praxis, value formation and learning for sustainable development”. Based on ethnography and practice-based research in Scotland’s Northern Isles, this paper considers a performative praxis of co-curating maritime heritage-making as future assembling, deliberative value formation, elicitive of social learning for sustainable development in vulnerable environments.

Naomi Harvey presented a paper on “The Scotland’s sounds’ network: exploring the participatory role of sound archives in continuing traditions.” The paper discussed the ‘Scotland’s Sounds’ network of sound collections, exploring how this ‘distributed archive’ model functions through participatory work across the sound archive sector, and looking at how increasing access to archives has an impact on the practice of cultural traditions.

Kerstin Pfeiffer chaired and co-convened the panel “Through the lens of affect and emotion: exploring the potentials [SIEF Working Group on Body, Affects, Senses and Emotions (BASE)]” with Jonas Frykman from Lund University. This was the most popular panel of the conference, with 30+ abstracts submitted, and spin-off panels created as a result.

“Ethnologists and folklorists employ a range of perspectives when probing different aspects of socio-cultural phenomena related to the body, affects, senses and emotions. Rather than constituting a field in its own right, their research engages with and enriches established research areas. This panel continues to explore the creative potential the perspective has brought to research areas discussed at previous BASE working group meetings, like migration, sports, material culture, religious practices, theatrical performances, music, dwelling and so on. What are the most rewarding outcomes? In how far are they innovative in the context of a particular research field? How do they fill the gaps in the existent understandings of particular phenomena, notably those engaging body and senses? Which difficulties do resarchers encounter when trying to apply this lens to the existent ethnographic and folkloristic data? In what way does it change the ways we engage in ethnographic work and does it allow for establishment of novel fieldwork-based epistemologies? We welcome proposals for papers that deal with historical and contemporary materials, old and and new topics, original fieldwork or archived material, However, by clearly addressing the questions noted above, the papers should focus on exploring the creative potential – as well as the challenges – presented by the lens of affect and emotion. “

Session 1

Paradise lost: inheriting the summerhouse. Jonas Frykman (Lund University).

Emotion and its role in ethnicity creation within Konkani community, Kochi, India. Alina Kaczmarek-Subramanian (The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS).

Doing the festival. Making the city and region into sensual places. Connie Reksten (Western Norway University).

Understanding affective strategies and counterstrategies: examining political emotions as cultural practices. Monique Scheer (University of Tuebingen).

Navigating the ocean of suspicion: affective politics and materiality in Cairo. Cairo. Maria Frederika Malmström (Lund University / Columbia University).

Session 2

Affective integration: conceptual and empirical contributions of the lens of affect to migration research. Maja Povrzanovic Frykman (Malmö University).

Affective practices of unemployment. Tytti Steel (University of Helsinki).

Body in traditional costume – new approach to traditional costume research. Maria Gacic (Museum of Dakovo Region).

 Sensual engagement in sports: researcher’s and actants’ emotional involvement and the productive use of emotions in and of the field. Yonca Krahn (Universität Zürich).

Marc Romano presented a paper on “Digital Media, a tool to redefine a contemporary Scottish Identity”. Following the Brexit referendum, the question of national identity and belonging wa raised and challenged particularly in Scotland where their origins are strongly aligned with Europe. This paper explores the redefinition of contemporary Scottish identity through the use of digital media.

I presented a poster on “New meanings of European identity in Scotland”. The poster presents results of my ongoing PhD research project on the perception of European identity in post-Brexit Scotland with a particular focus on the relation between European identity and small state vulnerability.

This was my first poster, a medium I was unsure off at first but came to appreciate more when it started to function as a billboard for my research, present throughout the conference. For two of my fellow doctoral students, Chiara Cocco and Marc Romano, it was their first time presenting at an international conference. All presentations were very well received and followed by useful discussions with an interdisciplinary audience.

I also attended some excellent presentations. The closing event started with a fascinating keynote by professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett on the POLIN Museum of the history of Polish Jews, of which she is the Chief Curator. This was followed by a roundtable entitled ‘Listening to objects’, in which three established academics, Regina Bendix, Dorothy Noyes and Sharon Roseman, presented an object (for example a strand of hair or a pot) which seemed bland at first, but about which each of them had a fascinating and often hilarious story to tell. The keynote lecture by Professor Tim Ingold, entitled ‘Strike-through and wipe-out: tactics for overwriting past’ provided much food for thought.

During the opening of the conference we were encouraged to take part in at least one panel which did not relate to our research, just for fun and to expand our horizons. For me, this was a panel on cuteness: a concept I hadn’t really considered before (apart from the occasional cat video) but which was fascinating. In particular, the presentation by Professor Irene Stengs from the Meertens Institute on the King of Thailand’s cute cartoons was thought-provoking.

Beside the interesting panels and discussion, we also find time to explore Santiago de Compostela and to experience the local cuisine. I was a particular fan of pulpo (octopus), a local delicacy which somehow also became our team mascot.

You can check out #SIEF2019 on Twitter for more details, and in particular #team_hwu_irc

** Our colleague Katerina Strani found pulpo on the window of high-street shop Anthropologie on George Street in Edinburgh. Clearly it is not only us who think an octopus is the perfect mascot for our discipline!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *