International Conference:

Folk Culture and Boundaries in the Balkans

Volos, 7-8 June 2008

The concept of the conference Organizers and sponsors The conference programme


Sarah Green (University of Manchester)
Contested boundaries and ordinariness in the Balkans: on the problems of locating culture around the Greek-Albanian border.

This paper explores the problem of constructing identity in conditions where there is no final resolution to conflicts about the location of boundaries between places and peoples. An iconic example of such conditions within dominant contemporary Western thought is the Balkans: a place that stereotypically stands for political instability, in which conflicts over borders and boundaries always seem to lead to more of the same, rather than any final resolution. Using ethnographic research from the Greek-Albanian border region, the paper describes how these conditions (continual implicit or explicit conflict over the location of boundaries and borders) generate a range of outcomes for people associated with such regions. Amongst these is that some people come to seem ordinary, lacking in any distinction. The paper argues that this is a matter of such peoples' location, their association with a place that cannot be contained within existing boundaries but continually extends beyond them. In conditions where the location of boundaries have not been finally resolved, there is no way to contain people's multiple social relations and identifications within pure, clearly bounded (national, cultural, political) identities. And in the contemporary political context in which the meaning of "culture" reflects an understanding of identity as a discrete object or thing (to be promoted, for example, as "cultural heritage"), those who cannot adequately achieve the level of clear boundaries and separation from others that is needed in order to appear as something in particular can end up appearing as nothing in particular (i.e. "just ordinary"), with the result that they become virtually invisible in cultural terms.