Magyari-Vincze Enikő

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Introductory ideas for(re)adressing processes of identification,In Performing Identities. Renegotiating Socio-Cultural Identities in the Post-socialist Eastern Europe, editat de Eniko Magyari-Vincze, Petruta Mîndrut, Cluj: EFES, 2004.



In Performing Identities. Renegotiating Socio-Cultural Identities in the

Post-socialist Eastern Europe, Cluj: EFES, 2004,

editat de Enikő Magyari-Vincze, Petruta Mîndruţ

The conference on Renegotiating Socio-Cultural Identities in the Post-Socialist Eastern Europe was organized between 28th and 30th of June, 2003 by several academic and non-governmental organizations from Romania. The Institute for Cultural Anthropology (at the Faculty of European Studies, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj),  the Interdisciplinary Group For Gender Studies from the same university, the Foundation Desire from Cluj, and the Visual Anthropology Foundation from Sibiu could put together this event due to the generous financial support of the Open Society Institute/Higher Education Support Program from Budapest and of the East-East Program of the Foundation for an Open Society Institute from Bucharest. The participants were scholars and activists from Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary working on several scientific domains, like cultural anthropology, sociology, philosophy, political sciences, history, philosophy, and psychology. But, as planned, the conference had a Western participation as well, in particular from universities from The Netherlands, Great Britain and the United States -- financially this was possible due to the existing partnerships between them and our institutions.

Our main objective was to create a framework for a critical and difference-sensitive dialogue between Eastern and Western scholars and activists working on issues of socio-cultural identities and social transformations in the contemporary Europe. The organizers' endeavor was as well as to increase the awareness of the Romanian academic, political and public opinion about the social inequalities among different categories within and between countries of the region, and the impacts that the post-socialist transformation processes are having on women and men of different ethnicity, gender, age and social position. Finally -- through this event -- we intended to continue and to begin collaborative work between scholars from Eastern and Western universities, but as well as to carry on the existing co-operation between academics and activists working on issues of discrimination and equal opportunities.  According to these objectives our goals were: to identify the key theories, concepts and methodologies used in the research of the socio-cultural identities and in understanding the ways in which multiple identities are shaped by and are shaping at their turn social changes; to bring to the surface the varied experiences related to the empirical researches pursued in different countries on our topic and to create a space for exchanging them; to increase the awareness about the diversity of the issues, approaches, and theoretical and methodological tools regarding the analysis of the impact of the social changes on socio-cultural identities; to discuss the complex relationship between ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and the ways in which these axes of differences are intertwined and are producing different experiences of the social transformations, and the ways in which power regimes are molding peoples' opportunities to re-negotiate as active subjects their identities and positions in different countries of the region; to understand and to emphasize the importance of the social and cultural research on identities and social inequalities from the point of view of the elaboration and implementation  of the public policies regarding equal opportunities; to increase public awareness about the issue of inequalities as linked to identities and social positions; the films presented during the days of the workshop (available through one of the organizing institutions, ASTRA) will offer the chance to a broader public to participate on our event; and last, but not least, to assure space for a dialog between the participant academics and representatives of non-governmental organizations, working on issues of discrimination and equal opportunities.

We located the discussions about socio-cultural identities in the domain of politics, i.e. in the context of the power relations (understood in the broadest sense of the term), which are structuring the social and the cultural order in all the spheres of private and public life. Considered that individual and collective identities exist as continuous processes of (self)-identification, consisting both of the practices of cultural/symbolic naming, social positioning and political recognition and both of the concepts, images and feelings resulting from and/or underlying them.

Understood as processes of (re)-negotiation, identities -- as sets of institutionalized practices and personal experiences tied to processes of transformation -- and the related issue of social inequalities, are among the central matters of the post-socialist changes in Eastern Europe. They are embedded in nets of symbolic and material power that adjust people's thinking about the nature and the direction of the "proper" changes, define the priorities of the social-economic, cultural and political development, and eventually re-situate individuals and communities in the reconstructed hierarchies of different domains of activity and structure their opportunities both in the private and public life. Throughout these processes, certain social categories are becoming the main actors of the public sites, they acquire the abilities, the legitimacy and the financial conditions of enforcing their self-definition, self-positioning, ways of life and styles of thinking, while others remain the victims, or in the best case the silent objects of the naming, inclusions and exclusions imposed on them by the powerful others. Implicitly, for some, the processes of transformation signify the chance of articulating their own identity -- both the forms and contents of their cultural representations, and their social-material interests -- and of achieving recognition, while for others these processes imply their muteness and structural inability of displaying themselves as subjects with legitimate demands.

Briefly put, identities are negotiated, permanently remade -- at a one hand -- on a discursive/ institutional level and -- on the other hand -- within the context of personal experiences. The plan was to discuss our main topic from the perspective of the similarities and differences within and between women and men of different ethnicity, sexual orientation, social position, age and country of belonging, and in particular under the conditions of the post-socialist transformations viewed in the context of the contemporary Europe. Academics and representatives of non-governmental organizations were participating at each session. In this way theoretical issues addressing social inequalities, discrimination and marginalization, were addressed together with the practical experiences of organizations activating against these phenomena (besides the studies, our volume presents briefly some of them).

In the Romanian and East European scholarly world, the identity issues understood in this manner started to be addressed from a gender perspective only since a few years ago. Our conference aimed to increase the impact of such voices on the academic and public life, and to raise the consciousness about the ways in which the gendered power regimes are defining differently and unequally the chances of women and men of different ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and social position to participate as active subjects in the processes of negotiating on their identities and positions. This endeavor was strictly related to the fact that the conference was conceived also as an event, which ended the three year long curriculum development project of the Interdisciplinary Group for Gender Studies from Cluj, fulfilled within a partnership with the Centre for Women's Studies from the University of Nijemgen (The Netherlands) and the Research Centre for Women's Studies from the University of Sussex (Great Britain).

Unfortunately not all the participants sent their papers for this volume, and, as the interested reader my observe, the structure of the latter is different from the way in which the conference program presented below was structured in plenary discussions and sessions. Through the way in which we arranged the contents of the book we would like to express once again our conviction according to which ethnicity, gender, class and other markers of differences are intertwined, and actually any social phenomena might be approached from a gender perspective.