Raising the Standard of Intercultural Research:
Heriot-Watt profiled strongly at major international congress
From 22-25 June 2015, members of Heriot-Watt’s Intercultural Research Centre (IRC) participated in the 2015 congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) in Zagreb. SIEF is the main international learned society in its field.
The theme for 2015 was “Utopias–Realities–Heritages”, and the IRC team contributed significantly to the debate, not just by the usual conference activities of presenting papers and chairing panels. Although for most of the team, this was their first SIEF congress, they impressed their peers with originality and commitment, as evident not just in the conference’s Twitter feed.
The papers they presented ranged across a broad spectrum of topics: Postgraduate members presented a semiotic analysis of clothing, heritage & identity of Russian Old Believers in Romania (Cristina Clopot), a case study of fundraising for the National Trust Scotland (Anna Koryczan), and ethnographic insights into Lithuanian migration to Scotland (Vitalija Stepušaitytė).
Staff members explored how emotional scripts of medieval passion plays are re-imagined for and by contemporary audiences (Dr Kerstin Pfeiffer), whether Derry~Londonderry’s year as UK City of Culture 2013 succeeded in generating a shared story for the city (Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith, written with Dr Katerina Strani and IRC associate member Dr Philip McDermott), and political dimensions of place and belonging among displaced groups (Prof. Ullrich Kockel, reporting on his SML-IRG funded research project on expellee and refugee youth after World War Two).
Two IRC associate members also spoke at the conference: Dr des. Nandini Senroy on lived spaces of waste picking communities in Calcutta, and Dr Salma Siddique about memories and expectations of home in the context of post-traumatic counselling. Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith, jointly with Prof. Kristin Kuutma (Tartu/Estonia), convened a three-session panel on heritage as social, economic and utopian resource, which received numerous enthusiastic Tweets from participants.
SIEF’s research working groups met on the second evening of the congress. Kerstin Pfeiffer was elected secretary of newly formed SIEF working group “Body, Senses and Emotions”, and Ullrich Kockel presented his final report on the “Place Wisdom” group, which he had led since establishing it in 2009, before handing over the baton to Prof. Katriina Siivonen (Helsinki) and Dr Stella Butter (Gießen).
The creative workshop format was introduced by Prof. Kockel for the 2008 SIEF congress in Ulster.
In Zagreb he led a workshop developing further a funding proposal for an interdisciplinary exploration of “waterscape perspectives” on cultural heritages and sustainable development. Doctoral student Vitalija Stepušaitytė led a workshop on “Mapping Home”, which involved inter alia the creation of a 3D-map using thread, cardboard and two chairs; an interactive sketch map of truckers’ home on the road; the soundscape of Latvian solstice songs; and the drawing of life journey maps and building of paper-craft models to capture different experiences and ensuing narratives.
As a result of this workshop, she was picked by one of the most highly regarded senior researchers in the field, emProf. Orvar Löfgren (Lund), to join a group of 9 young researchers from around the globe for the final session of the congress, where they were introduced as “representing the future of ethnology”. Prof. Löfgren commended her workshop as an exemplary and most inspiring approach demonstrating new ways of practicing ethnology. In her contribution to the session, she raised the question of whether and how we can give tangible expression to complex cultural phenomena.
In contributions from the floor during this final session, senior scholars emphasised the importance of heritage research and the need for a greater emphasis on ecological issues – both areas in which the IRC has particularly strong expertise. The IRC members came away from this conference not only feeling proud of their team effort and achievements, but reassured by their international peers that they are part of an innovative venture that is seen as leading research in the field.
Read the IRC Storify on SIEF2015.