A feeling about EASA 2008

I must confess my surprise in front of the dimension of the 10th Biennial EASA conference organized by the European Association of Social Anthropologists, four days at the end of August in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Talking with some “old” members, it was said that never before was so big and so warmly attended; so many people together from different countries, let’s say, arriving from every continent.

All members of MASN Moving Anthropology Student Network were gently invited to participate in the EASA Conference and were part of the staff too. It happened after the activities of the meeting, this time about “Borders, Boundaries and Frontiers” that took place during August 19th -24th, in Osilnica, a little Slovenian town, near to the frontier with Croatia.

The MASNers left the serene landscape of Osilnica to reach the capital and its active streets, gardens and plazas in the city town. There, we had the opportunity to encounter interesting people from the universe of the social-anthropological field. I started to imagine that at least those days Ljubljana was ours, I mean, of the EASA community, the community of social researchers. We were everywhere sharing, discussing or simply enjoying the free time between lectures, round tables and plenary sessions, without excluding the nocturne occasions: the reception at the Ljubljana Castle, the Terrafolk and Kontrabant concerts, the boat trip on the Ljubljanica river, the dancing night, the walks in the center, etc.

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In schedule were previewed 129 workshops including presentations, lectures and round tables. Film and new media sessions, meetings with editors and the parallel activities such as performances, the Sanje festival “Anthropology at the Peripheries” and a variety of musical appointments. All of it intensive moments to reflect about “Experiencing Diversity and Mutuality”.

With the aim of the conference to “exploit and accentuate the crucial importance of a direct – ethnographic – experience of diversity and mutuality in ethnology and anthropology”, the main idea was to explore the concept of mutuality from every possible perspective favouring conceptions derived from the relation between the notion of mutuality and that of cultural diversity.

The participants had in front of them some questions such as “what can we do with mutuality today”, “what are the modalities of its experience”, “why is it relevant”, “how can we relate it to diversity”, etc. These were the initial points to talk about mutuality including many scenarios as possible, so as to give the chance to professionals, young researchers and students to find moments of reflection about their role and own work.

“Mutuality, rather than unity, may be found beyond the diversity of cultures; it may result in a mutual research for compatibility among differences.” (EASA 2008)
This phrase remembers me the concept of exchange experience that I refer when working with intercultural mediation and I would like to share here:

“A multicultural society can be developed in an intercultural sense or may choose the multiculturalism understood as a unit of cultures, one close to the other. In the last case, the society accepts a juxtaposition of cultures, almost promoting the preservation of differences." (Aluffi Pentini 2002)
At this point, it is important to notice that the cultural mediation in its pedagogical quality is trying to encourage in society the interchange as a transaction, rather than just accept the coexistence. In other words, one should be conscious of the risk that involves the encounter, the exchange: a risk of a “cultural contamination” or the lose of some exclusive cultural privileges. This contamination could be and should be seen as a positive consequence of the interrelation.

One did not had to attend to a large number of lectures, to perceive that the Conference in itself was a vivid example of exchange and contamination of the senses from the diversity of topics, perspectives, anecdotes, lections and personal records in the anthropological practice.


The example of the Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural

I found interesting and have great respect for the anthropological research activity of Dr. Gunther Dietz (Professor Titular of Social Anthropology at the University of Granada, Spain) and Ph.D Candidate Laura S. Mateos Cortés (professor in Multicultural societies and Intercultural Studies at the Intercultural University of Veracruz), done in Veracruz, in the eastern region of Mexico and presented as part of the Workshop 034 “Anthropologies of University Reform: Restructuring of Higher Education – Anthropological Perspectives”.

Their participation entitled “Indigenising” or “Interculturalising” Universities in Mexico: An Ethnography of the Local Appropriation of Globalised Diversity Discourse inside the “Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural” exposed the case of a new institution of higher education, the Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural that reaches four indigenous regions offering a B.A. in “Intercultural management for development”. I agree with the authors that it is an innovative discourse of higher instruction, based on a “hybrid mixture of conventional university teaching, community-oriented research and “employability"-driven development projects”. Frequently, traditional universities promise that their programs are designed to create profiles of experts in real problem solving and real project management. In the practice, it is so far from what one find in context. And things become complex if it is in indigenous realities. That is the reason why the effort of this research program is so admirable: configuring an education system from the community, for the community, with the community.

Their intervention remembers me not only the power of politic interests in the Mexican University system and the difficulty to access the superior instruction in my country. It also remembers me the relevance of the self-perception to make a choice when desiring to do professional studies, to have a profession, to enter to the university. Is it for me? Can I desire such thing? Would I have what I am looking for?

Finally, I was thinking about the differences of the concept of “higher education system”, result of the combination with some established terms that the Mexican middle-class society used to apply when referring to the kind of education: “indigenous”, “for the indios”, “ethnic”, “multicultural”… and (hoping that tomorrow more frequently) “intercultural”.


Second person addressing

Changing the topic to mutualism, I appreciated the participation of Dr. Michael Carrithers, Professor of Anthropology at the Durham University, titled “Address in the second person: A condition of life and Anthropology” during the first Plenary Session. It was an interesting consideration of mutuality. Also, it exemplified a case of diverse thinking in the discipline exercise in relation to its tradition -an expectation of the conference this year. I believe that Dr. Michael Carrithers’ important contribution was that of considering the daily life dynamics of the human being relevant to anthropology. He remembered to the community that in every anthropological motion happens the second person addressing. Analyzing the social dynamics, he presented a three-mechanism system to explain that the activity of the anthropologist is at the end a human relation moment, and one should not forget that takes place a social exchange. One is inevitably involved and one should be aware of it: “representing, cultivating and addressing”.

I could not avoid making personal considerations and taking notes, relating his statements to my work about the photographic act and the role of photography in social research methodologies. The fact of being there doing research with a photographic apparatus or, may be, just talking about photography or involving photography in endless ways, it is a social moment where conventions and discoveries take place and significances appear. One is always gaining an impression, a reaction, a lection, in the way one is always giving something instead.

Just to finish with the comments about Dr. Carrithers’ participation, was notable his simple way of presenting, aided by typographic diagrams and pictures. Research conclusions or anthropological statements, in the same way as promotional slogans in advertising, are difficult to expose if one has no such ability to make clear presentations.

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