Tomsk State University
Department of History

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9th International Konitsa summer school in anthropology, ethnography, and comparative folklore of the Balkans

How we ‘did the field’ in Greece in four days

Konitsa, 23 July – 8 August 2014

The Konitsa summer school in anthropology, ethnography, and comparative folklore of the Balkans is one of the most significant events organized by the Border Crossings Network (http://www.border-crossings.eu) in the Balkans and in Greece, in particular. The way Konitsa municipal authorities treat the event and its participants is indicative of that fact – during the first day of the school there was a welcome reception held for the school participants by Mayor of Konitsa. To us, the participation in the school was a good way to experience how the theme of ‘crossing borders’ can be not only the focus of the official programme but also permeate the very life of the school.

During our stay there we were in the state of constant research into boundaries between the state of being at work and at play, ethnic boundaries (the school turned out to be the most international one over the course of its history as it gathered around twenty different nationalities this year), the ones between various academic traditions – boundaries that were constantly moving and would at times get blurred.  Besides, it was an interesting experience in ‘switching between our own identities’: we are ordinary school participants from Russia (Siberia); we are representatives of our own academic traditions; we are critical external and participant observers; we are organizers of our own fieldwork…

A quite intense school programme allowed us to get to know both classical academic traditions of teaching anthropology (‘Oxbridge’) and relatively new centres of anthropological and ethnographical research in the Balkans and in Greece. The first educational module lasted three days and included such subjects as:

To be especially useful for our fieldwork there we found the course by professor Judith Okely who is known not only for her study of Gypsies but also for her standing at the origins of women’s movement in English academia at Oxford. In her course she brilliantly demonstrated through her own personal and professional life how symbolic boundaries between gender, class and race can be created, cross, be destroyed and recreated.   

The fieldwork exercise was, perhaps, the most exciting among all other educational modules as it offered a ‘hands-on’ field experience. Undoubtedly, it was impossible to do something ‘serious’ and produce academically rigorous results in just four days of fieldwork, but that was the challenge for us to face. According to the tradition formed throughout the nine years of the school’s history, organizers offered us three options of fieldwork: within Greece, at the Albanian-Greek or at the Greek-Albanian borders. We opted for something else… a small fishing village called Psarades and situated on the bank of Prespa lake in the region where borders of three states meet -  those of Greece, Albania, and FYROM – borders political or state ones but what interested us most was to look into symbolic boundaries lying between the people living in the region.

Our trip across Greece was no easy ride as public transport between small cities and even regional centres is not as much developed in the country as one would expect but we were guided by our curiosity and considered any difficulties as an adventure of a kind. Actually, the phrase ‘Follow your curiosity’, given to us by Judith Okely for guidance, inspired us throughout the trip (and here boundaries along the lines field-travel-adventure were rather blurred as well).

We entered the field with a naïve, as it now seems, hypothesis that the village of Psarades is the only ‘Greek island’ in the Albanian-Macedonian environment of the Prespa region. As time was limited, we had to immerse ourselves in the field using the so called ‘funnel approach’ (M. Agar) which implies the maximum perception and fixation of one’s own observations, thoughts and feelings which may emerge in the field, without sorting any data.

The first outcome we got was the refutation of our hypothesis – as a matter of fact, in the region the fate and fortunes of Greeks , Albanians and Macedonians have long been closely intertwined and Psarades village is by far not a ‘Greek island’ there. Moreover, the boundaries of the everyday life are kaleidoscopic and vary a lot across the region: even during the four days of our stay there we could detect (in terms of ‘locality’) the following pairs of ‘we-they’ opposites:

These are just a few categories that we managed to observe in the course of our four-day intense fieldwork exercise.

Another important factor in the local identity of Prespa residents is the lake itself and nature in a broader sense. The lake (to be precise, it is two lakes – the Big Prespa Lake and the Small Prespa Lake) lies at the heart of people’s everyday communication, it is, to a varying degree, a point of reference for everyone, and finally, it is what helps the people earn their living here and even make profits (tourists, researchers, students and all other interested visitors coming here constitute a source of income for the local budget). In general, the region is unique in terms of ecology: the largest colony of pink and silver pelicans is found here, and the natural wealth of the region can hardly be overestimated. Furthermore, there is the headquarters of an international environmental organization ‘Society for the Protection of Prespa’ (SPP) located here whose presence also influences local identities and the regional development of Prespa as such.

The region of Prespa seemed to us to be very promising in terms of research. During our stay there we could establish good working and personal relationships which may be a good basis for further fieldwork research.

Upon our return to the ‘base’ in Konitsa we continued our training. The second educational part of the school proved to be no less interesting:

Environmental history and cultural ecology of the Mediterranean and the Balkans (by Oliver Rackham, Cambridge, UK; Vassilis Nitsiakos, Kalliopi Stara, University of Ioannina, Greece).

Christian Orthodoxy in the Balkans: from the Ottoman domination to the collapse of Communism (15th to 20th centuries) (Daniella Kalkandjieva, University of ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’, Sofia, Bulgaria).

The past in the present: music and sounds in the Balkans (Rajko Mursic, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia).

During the last day the participants presented their fieldwork projects. So did we (to see the presentation, please go to http://lsar.tsu.ru/public/images/education/summer%20school%20Greece/Psarades%20case.pdf).

To conclude, to assess our whole experience in terms of ‘like – don’t like’ would be simplistic. We went to Greece to participate in the school as already established, to a degree, young researchers and somewhat experienced in life people. This helped us face any task more consciously and meaningfully, gather field material and set out potential prospects for research. What prevented us from a more carefree perception of everything around us was our pre-existing experience for we ourselves have repeatedly acted as organizers of academic events, and in this regard we felt the difference in our academic traditions. Anyhow, the participation in the school was indeed valuable for us: no only the training, fieldwork exercise and interaction with other nations but also the very immersion in the Greek environment, in a sense, changed us, as British novelist and travel writer Lawrence Durrell once said: ‘Other countries may offer you discoveries in manners or lore or landscape; Greece offers you something harder – the discovery of yourself’.   
 
Irina Poprvako, LSAR leading research fellow
Elena Karageorgii, LSAR junior research fellow

The project "Man in a Changing World. Identity and Social Adaptation: Past and Present" is funded by the Russian Government
(grant #14.В25.31.0009)
© Laboratory for Social and Anthropoligical Research, 2013

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