Course date

22 July - 2 August, 2002
Application deadline:
15 February, 2002
Course Director(s): 

Adrian Otoiu

North University Baia Mare, Faculty of Arts, Modern Languages Literatures, Baia-Mare, Romania
Course Faculty: 

Reka Cristian

Szeged University, Institute of American Studies, English Teacher Training and Applied Linguistics, Szeged, Hungary

Byron Lindsey

University of New Mexico, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Albuquerque, United States of America

Shawn O'Hare

Carson-Newman College, English, Jefferson City, United States of America

Clare Thake Vassallo

University of Malta, Junior College , Msida, Malta

The course provides updated information on the focal issues of multiculturalism, ethnicity, postcolonial and postcommunist theory, thus assisting the much-needed curriculum development in the new eastern European and post-Soviet democracies.

  • To familiarize students with both the theory in these fields and the practical issues that are raised by mass media and the arts.
  • To sensitize students to the current debates around multiculturalism and its relationship with ethnic, gender and cultural studies.
  • To prompt students to draw their own parallels and make their own comparisons between realities that are apparently unlike, such as the situation of the bygone colonial countries and the prospects of the states from the former Soviet block.
  • To promote a spirit of tolerance relative to delicate issues such as race, sexual orientation, minority right, positive discrimination, maintenance of cultural identity.

Course Rationale

This course aims to consider the concept of ethnicity in its cultural determinations across the traditional divide East/West. The collapse of the former Soviet Union and its Central and Eastern European satellites has unleashed centrifugal energies that had once been contained by the centripetal forces of the doctrine of "socialist internationalism". In the wake of this political "thaw", a flood of new nationalisms (often echoing long ignored interethnic ambiguities) has swept most of the "new democracies", from Chechenya and TransNistria, to Kosovo and Slovakia. Often fuelled by religious fundamentalism, by irredentist nostalgia or by the mere apprehension of the différence and the misconstruction of the Other, such nationalist frustrations could not be vented out against a former oppressor (as was the case of former colonies), because this had disintegrated as well, and then they were quite predictably re-directed against the different Other, whether neighbor or co-national. Whether they took the savage form of ethnic cleansing or the mild form of censorship of independent media, such reactions have proved equally counter-productive and disastrous.

Being itself a highly sensitive barometer to such change, the whole field of culture – and especially the arts and the media – has been torn between conflicting loyalties ; between the desire to reflect the ‘general human’ and the devotion to the new nationalisms, between parochialism and globalism. Opinion leaders, journalists and artists alike had to zigzag between the pitfalls of populist discourse and had to negotiate between the temptation of new nationalisms and the stern demands of European integration.

For many observers of the Eastern and Central European scene, such evolutions bear much in common with the issues revealed by postcolonial theory. Despite the sensible differences between the historical circumstances in which the process of liberation took place in the former colonial world and the Eastern block, numerous similarities. still reside and invite further critical contemplation.

Obviously, this does not mean that we should take the concepts elaborated by postcolonial theory and juxtapose them mechanically with the still hesitant ideas of postcommunist thought. Nor does this mean that the solutions offered by multiculturalism could automatically applied to a sensibly different set of problems. Yet, paralleling particular case studies from the two hemispheres might reveal resembling issues and ambiguities and suggest similar solutions.

Moreover, while economically the new Eastern democracies have still a long way to go until they might boast to have reached an acceptable western standard, the media and the arts were much faster to synchronize with the West. Indeed, the eastern European arts and means of communication have entered the era of postmodernity shortly after their western counterparts.

Course structure

This course will be offered by 6 scholars who will engage in a East-West dialogue that should lead the student to discover both the differences and similarities between situations as varied as the romanticized Caucasus colonized by Russia ; the Chicano immigrant to the United States and the displaced populations of former Yugoslavia ; the often-ignored paradoxical colonies at the edge of Europe, such as the island republic of Malta (thriving culturally within the language of the former oppressor), but also Georgia and Armenia; the scattered tableau of the Balkans torn by ethnic hatred ; the new nationalisms that distort the cultural dialogue in Transylvania.

We have attempted to maintain a balance between East and West issues, and thus 3 of the lecturers will address chiefly the post-Soviet and post-socialist context, whereas the other 3 will tackle the issues of ethnicity and multiculturalism in established Western democracies, as well as the challenges facing the countries having emerged from colonial rule ; one course will attempt cut across the differences between East and West. The 4 scholars engaged in this debate are a well-balanced mix: 3 from Western countries and 3 from Eastern countries, of which three are female and four are male.

Interdisciplinarity

While preserving a steady interest in the cultural phenomena – thus inscribing this course in the field of cultural studies – the debate will engage various cross-disciplinary perspectives, ranging from the viewpoint of the historian and the ethnographer, to the perspective of the literary theorist and the media analyst. Press articles, literary texts, documentary videos, political pamphlets, ethnic music, TV coverage and commercials will become the starting points of the debates proposed in each of the courses. Course objectives To provide updated information on the focal issues of multiculturalism, ethnicity, postcolonial and postcommunist theory, thus assisting the much-needed curriculum development in the new eastern European and post-Soviet democracies. To familiarize students with both the theory in these fields and the practical issues that are raised by mass media and the arts. To sensitize students to the current debates around multiculturalism and its relationship with ethnic, gender and cultural studies. To prompt students to draw their own parallels and make their own comparisons between realities that are apparently unlike, such as the situation of the bygone colonial countries and the prospects of the states from the former Soviet block. To promote a spirit of tolerance relative to delicate issues such as race, sexual orientation, minority right, positive discrimination, maintenance of cultural identity.

Target group

This course could benefit to various categories of professionals which are actively engaged in the establishing and fostering of the East-West dialogue, as well as in the issues of ethnicity and multiculturalism in their respective home countries. The target-group could therefore encompass cultural policy-makers, cultural managers, young faculty teaching cultural studies, multiculturalism and postcolonial criticism, young researchers with an interest in ethnicity.

Course level

Due to the complexities of multicultural theory, it is recommended that students possess a minimum of background information prior to course inception. Pending on the availability of time in the pre-course phase, some of this background information will be made available, either online or by mailed reading packages, so as to compensate eventual gaps in the students’ information. The level of analysis offered is intermediate to advanced.

Course format

The course will consist of a series of lectures alternating with seminars that will problematize the issues discussed previously. In a series of informal forum sessions at the end of these lectures, the students will be invited to parallel/contrast the situations described with the familiar context in their homelands.

Very few of the modules of the course might be labeled simply as seminars or lectures, since we have opted for a mixed format, where the initial presentation led by the resource person will be followed by a seminar where relevant issues should be discussed. Student interaction will be initiated during the pre-course phase, which comprises guided readings of recommended bibliography, preparation of case studies observed by students in their own homelands.

Student performance assessment

Final student evaluation will consist of the elaboration of a research paper that should make good use of the information acquired. We would encourage teamwork, by requiring students from two different countries to team up to produce a comparative study on a particular aspect of their own interest. Depending on the students’ interests, each of the 8 lecturers will supervise a paper in their particular area of expertise. After the completion of the course, we intend to select the best research papers and post them online, where they might attract the interest of a wider audience.

Course narrative

While most of the courses will offer brief forays into the latest evolutions of postcolonial theory and multiculturalism, yet the theoretical backbone of the course will be provided by a thorough analysis of "Multiculturalism in the United States: The Origins and the Current Debate" offered by Dr. Avital Bloch, director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Colima, Mexico. This course will trace the convoluted history of the making of multiculturalism as a focal concept for the understanding of today’s world, and will present the impact of this concept on ethnic, gender and cultural studies, as well as its relationship with postmodernism. This course has a natural emphasis on the United States, since this is the place where the most animated debates on minority rights, multiculturalism and civil rights originated.

Besides its theoretical stance, this course will the the first to tackle the various local issues of multiculturalism in the Western hemisphere.

"The New Americans: Latinos/as in the United States" – a course proposed by Dr. Shawn O’Hare (Carson-Newman, USA) – focuses on the most dynamic migrant phenomenon in nowadays U.S.A. and charts the change of the Latinos from a once minority group to a major component in the American melting pot, with important consequences on the monolingual United States.

Crossing the Atlantic, we will monitor the postcolonial destinies of a small nation, Malta, that faces the dilemma of defining its national identity, that is, the problematic choice between English – the new "lingua franca" yet the language of the former oppressor, and Maltese – the "small" language of insignificant international penetration, yet crucial in the definition of an individualized ethnic profile. Such paradoxes will constitute the core of the course entitled "Questioning Postcolonial Identities" proposed by Dr. Clare Thake-Vassalo (University of Malta). The first part of the course which will interrogate some of the basic assumptions of postcolonial theory, such as its engagement in battles around nationalism, diaspora, migration fluid identity, and hybridization. The second part of the course will analyze Malta’s current troubles (such as its reluctance to join the European Union) as symptoms of the country’s ambiguous relationship with its own colonial past. The course shows to what extent a nation’s unsolved interrogations of the past may influence its present decisions, and how unhealed colonial wounds may easily turn into postcolonial scars.

Crossing the former Iron Curtain, another set of courses will explore the way the Eastern European countries coped with the ethnic provocation in their troubled past and the way a multicultural policies are still at a loss to shape the new postcommunist context.

Russia’s long-lived political engagement in the Caucasus has produced two versions of the Caucasus: the idyllically distorted image of the exotic Eden in Romantic Russian literature, which completely obliterated the cruel reality of repression the region’s native peoples by the Tsars and Soviet rulers alike. Starting from these sets of images that are hardly overlapping, the course proposed by Dr. Byron Lindsey (University of New Mexico, USA) traces the long line of misrepresentations that have pervaded Russian depictions of the Caucasus. After considering the mirroring of Russia in the colony’s eyes and comparing the versions of the Caucasus posited by post-Soviet postmodern writers, Dr. Lindsey crosses the Atlantic to examine another set of problematic representations: the way Russia is constructed in the American media and popular imagination as another "prisoner of the Caucasus" with possible links to postcolonial stereotypes. The title of Dr. Lindsey’s course sums up this trajectory: "Taking Cultural Captives: Myth, National Identity, and the Other in Russia’s View of the Caucasus and America’s View of Russia."

The most dramatic outcome of such long-unsolved ethnic problems was the one that tore the camouflaging veil off the complicated multiethnic Yugoslavia. Analysing literary texts, films, media coverage and propaganda posters, the course Tropes of Multiethnic Yugoslavia proposed by Dr. Réka-Mónika Cristian (Jozsef Attila University Szeged, Hungary) will scrutinize the way the situation of post-socialist Yugoslavia becomes textualized in literary, filmic or musical expressions, thus establishing the concept of a ‘nation as narration’.

An important part of the course will attempt to parallel the post-communist experience with the postcolonial and interrogate whether we may apply the postcolonial perspective to post-socialist contexts.

The seminar entitled "Us and Them in the Transylvanian Mirror Chamber" will be taught jointly by Transylvanian-born Hungarian Réka Cristian and Romanian Adrian Oţoiu ; in an open dialogue, the two will dramatize the intricacies involved in the interethnic dialogue in Transylvania, and will contrast the current (mis)representations of the Other in the Romanian and Hungarian media in Transylvania. Dr. Oţoiu’s contribution will also expand the debate on the unpalatable theme of illegal migrations to the West, a phenomenon whose history dates back to the early 20th century. A further section will suggest border-crossing and status ambiguity, that is, transgression and liminality, as being central to Romania’s postmodern film and literature.

Preparatory phase

The preparatory phase of the course is planned to occur mainly online, where the most relevant materials will be posted in advance (2-3 months prior to course start) ; the website will feature a discussion list to provide a forum for exchange between faculty and our prospective students. This is the way the somewhat extensive bibliography required for this course will be made available in several batches. The forum will also enable us to survey our students’ main interests and eventually adapt our proposed discussion points so as to better meet their expectations.

Besides, we intend to use the web-based forum as a means to give our students several assignments. One such assignment that we can foresee at this point of our proposal is an empirical collection of materials, such as newspaper clippings, song lyrics, advertisements, proverbs and press releases, that suggest a certain cultural bias against (or in favor of) certain ethnic groups.

Extra-curricular activities

This three-week course will be furthered by a series of extracurricular activities to be held in the afternoons and weekends. A series of film shows and slide shows will further the students’ background information of the aspects discussed in the seminars (see detailed course syllabus for more details).

Three of the lecturers which are ardent photographers (Shawn O’Hare, Byron Lindsey and Adrian Oţoiu) will put up a photographic exhibition featuring pictures taken in their respective countries, that are relevant for the course.