Gender and Nation: Feminist Ethnography and Postcolonial Historiography

Principal researcher: Renata Jambrešić Kirin
Researchers and associates: Natka Badurina, Biljana Kašić, Ines Prica, Sandra Prlenda Perkovac

The crisis of authority within the social sciences and humanities was followed by an interest for experiences beyond European nations, postcolonial and marginalized groups and for women’s historical narratives. The rewriting of history of postcommunist countries from a postcolonial and gendered perspective was started by Western anthropologists, historians and political scientists who – despite tending towards the unification and harmonization of historical experiences of the entire “Balkan region” – showed how and why official history even after democratic changes was subject to suppressing and distorting historical facts. The heterogeneous Croatian historical experience demands new interpretations which would supplement existing histories and studies with more balanced concepts and more complex stories about the political nature of the past and the constituting of “grand national narratives” having in mind the issue of socially and gender disintegrated memory offered by postmodern theories of (writing) history. What is needed for the correction of monological historiographical discourses are new extensive, ethnographically oriented and methodologically conceived studies of oral history, the history of minorities and the history of women and especially a feminist revision of history, an emancipatory project that with the inscribing of women into history appropriates the legitimacy of producing relevant historical knowledge. A gender sensitive interpretation of socio-historical processes is inevitable both for the understanding of the creation of modern collective identities in the 19th c. – national, class, religious, gender and professional – and for the understanding of the process of amnesia, rearranging and correction of memory linked to the social past and the “invisibility” of women in contemporary historiographies. A gendered view helps to understand the relation between history and social memory, male and female politics of remembering, personal recollections and cultural constructions of memory within the hypothesis that recollections are adapted to dominant ideas and expectations of researchers leaving out “unsuitable” contents and reshaping the “timeless” past of tradition allowing for the contingent of personal experiences. A gender studies interpretation as an alternative is necessary for the correction of epistemological data with roughly the same meaning for all experts. The project associates will dedicate special attention to the analysis of permanent and modifiable attributes of cultural inscriptions, the representation of the “ideal (patriotic) man”, respectively the “ideal (patriotic) woman” and female citizen, during the construction of the collective national body. Searching for forgotten cultural texts and reinterpreting canonical texts (patriotic songs, patriotic poetry, novels, operas, journals, political programs) from the 19th c., the researchers will confront the masculine image of the ideal native woman with women’s autobiographical narratives on one’s own place in the family, the professional and wider community. At the same time, their starting point will be the postulate that the figure of the “Illyrian patriotic woman” was modeled on competitive ideologies of left- and right-wing provenance to the detriment of that “third womanhood” – self-confident and socially empowered women whose creative expression and their own self-realization is put before collective projects. The researchers, focused on the contemporary period of Croatian history (1990–2006), will theoretically synthesize their reflections and their experiences of feminist, academic and activist self-positioning bearing in mind the cultural representation of positive, altruistic and objectionable (monstrous) womanhood in (post)war circumstances. The postulate of this directivity towards recent cultural texts and the “gender sensitive” multivocal narrative of “weak” historical witnesses is that a feminist research and interpretative approach contributes to a more democratic narration of the past, validates parallel and competitive flows, suppressed and disputable places, breaks and traumatic fractures of national narratives.