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Cultural Legacies and Developments in the Balkans: Modern and Traditional Entanglements

Class at Faculty of Social Sciences |


Class Schedule: 1.      Introductory Lecture: general presentation of the course's structure; questions; discussion of the assignments and the course's rationale

Required Reading : none 2.      Balkan Culture: What do we mean by "Balkan Culture"? Can the Balkans be regarded as a homogeneous cultural space? 

- TheBalkansencompasses a variety of cultures and people. Can culture help to understand and explain behaviors and political and social institutions? We will investigate various concepts of culture (normative concept of culture versus neutral, anthropological concept and so on), and the political instrumentalization of an essentialist and monolithic concept of culture which fosters nationalistic feelings and conflicts.  

Mandatory Readings:

- Michael Keating, "Culture in Social Sciences", in Donatella Della Porta and Michael Keating (eds.), Approaches and Methodologies in the Social Sciences: A Pluralist Perspective , Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp.99-118

- Boris Kremenliev, "Social and Cultural Changes in Balkan Music", Western Folklore , Vol. 34, no. 2, (April 1975), pp.117-136

 Stable URL:        

Additional (advisable) Readings:

- Ivan Colovic, The Balkans: The Terror of Culture: Essay in Political Anthropology , Baden-Baden: Nomos (South East European Integration Perspectives, 5), 2011.        3.      Fault Lines: "High" Culture (Elite's Culture) and Popular (Folk) Culture

Culture is often associated with the terms "high" and "low". In this class we will examine both "high"/elite’s culture and popular culture, in the past and in contemporary contexts. We will focus on the "high" (literary) and popular (folk) culture divide and on the emergence and consolidation of national literature and art; folklore’s role in the formation and development of the national literatures; the creation of a new folklore in the twentieth century under the communist regimes; the manipulation of folklore for political purposes (e.g. "the national folk culture" under communism) versusfolklore as a site of cultural refuge and resistance.  

Mandatory Readings:    

-Alice Mocanescu, "National Art as Legitimate Art: ‘National between Tradition and Ideology in Ceausescu’s Romania", pp. 1-16, available at:  

-Maria Alexe, "The Balkan Post-modern Writers-Between Story Tellers Tradition and Western Patterns", НАУЧНИ ТРУДОВЕ НА РУСЕНСКИЯ УНИВЕРСИТЕТ, том 50, 2011, pp. 132-136, available online at:  

Additional (advisable) Readings:

-Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, London: Temple Smith, 1978.   4.      The Reassessment of the Balkan Epic in Contemporary Art and Culture: Aesthetic and Political Complexities

The epic traditions have been part of many different cultures from various parts of the world. In this course we will examine epics across the Balkan region, both as a historical and as a contemporary phenomenon. The genre of Modern Literary Epic (as the first stage in the development of modern Balkan literatures) emerged from oral epic. There are various interpretations regarding the functions of these early literary epics. But what is the significance of Balkan epic today? Is contemporary Balkan epic a genre of connections, cultural flows and intersections within and through the region or a source of nationalist imaginaries?  

Screening and discussion: Marina Abramovic, "Balkan Baroque" (1997) and "Balkan Erotic Epic" (2005)    

Mandatory Readings:

-Margaret Beissinger, "Epic, Gender and Nationalism: The Development of Nineteenth- Century Balkan Literature" in The Epic Traditions in the Contemporary Word: The Poetics of Community, Margaret Beissinger, Jane Tylus and Susanne Wofford, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, pp. 69-83 (these pages will be distributed in class in advance).

-Maja Brkljačić, "Popular Culture and Communist Ideology: Folk Epics in Tito’s Yugoslavia", in Ideologies and National Identities: The Case of Twentieth-Century Southeastern Europe, John R. Lampe and Mark Mazower, Budapest: CEU Press, 2004, pp.180-210. Available also online at:  

Additional (advisable) Readings:  

-Gregory Nagy, "Epic as Genre", in The Epic Traditions in the Contemporary Word: The Poetics of Community, Margaret Beissinger, Jane Tylus and Susanne Wofford, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, pp. 21-29.  

-Alice Blackwood, "Adapting Tradition: The Role of Epic Poetry in Communist Bulgaria and Yugoslavia", Balkan Folklore, 2011, pp.1-12,


-Shinya Watanabe, Comparison of Marina Abramovic’s Performance at the Venice Biennale, and Sanja Ivekovic’s Performance Miss Croatia and Miss Brazil Read Zizek and Chomsky at the Sao Paolo Biennale  available at:   5.      Balkan vernacular style and its influences in modern architecture: the relat


This course focuses on various aspects of socio-cultural developments in the Balkans since the middle of the nineteenth century until present. In line with its multidisciplinary character, it will put a strong emphasis on the historical and political background of the region moving on to issues of transition and European (cultural-political) integration, particularly in the second part of the course. The cultural diversity of the Balkans will be examined both as a historical and as a contemporary phenomenon. Throughout the course we will make comparison between the Balkan states, their cultural-political legacies and transformation processes. In addition to the secondary sources, we will look at paintings, videos, film, short documentaries and other visual material. Students will become proficient at using both primary and secondary sources in their assignments.

The course will also highlight the important transnational aspects of cultural-social developments which often remain unaddressed in modern Balkan history when analysis is restricted only to individual nation states from the region. Apart from its clear thematic focus the purpose of this course is to equip students with the research tools and analytical framework required to systematically examine historical, political and cultural developments in the Balkans. At the end of this course students will be able to systematically analyze long term political and cultural developments in the Balkans since the late nineteenth century.

Prerequisites: none

Teaching Format: Mixture of Lecture and Seminar

Office Hours: Monday 12- 14 p.m. (please e-mail me by 11 a.m. on Sunday to let me know when you are coming.