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MEITS Strand 1 - Arts of identity: literature, cinema, culture and citizenship in a globalizing Europe

Multilingualism is a cultural phenomenon. This strand undertakes a study of cultural texts and events – narrative fiction, poetry, theatre, cinema – that foreground, problematize and inform questions of linguistic unity, diversity, identity, power, and quality of life in the public sphere. We focus on two distinct and instructive contexts in the western and eastern reaches of Europe: Catalonia and Ukraine. The first is a small ‘autonomous region’ or stateless nation in Spain; the second is a large, relatively new nation-state currently engaged in a military conflict over, in part, the legacy of empire and colonialism. In both, language is often deployed, even instrumentalized, in divergent projects of national renegotiation and/or secession that have profound implications for international relations and for immigration and citizenship in a globalizing world.

The strand travels an historical arc that runs from the 19th to the 21st century, seeking to understand not only why politics animate language use in multilingual societies, but also how culture makes this politicization possible. We ask:

  • How do cultural events and works of literature, film and theatre contribute to understandings and misunderstandings about the place and function of languages in culture?
  • How does linguistic diversity bear on regional and national identities and communities affected by colonial pasts, particularly in the realm of culture?
  • How does multilingualism figure in conflict and conflict resolution both intra- and internationally, especially with reference to today’s Ukraine?

S1 intersects with other strands in a variety of ways. Given its attention to the interplay between majority and minority languages within states after empire (Spanish-Catalan, Russian-Ukrainian, Polish-Ukrainian), it addresses questions of prescriptive standardization in the service of national cohesion and modernization, allowing for connections with such languages as Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Corsican, Occitan (cf. S2-3). One of its conferences, organised by Stanley Bill (Cambridge), will address the dynamics of Polish as a minority language in Britain (cf. S4, S5) and Ukrainian as a minority language in Poland. Another will address Catalan and globalization. Its emphasis on the role of language in conflict and resolution also involves a close examination of the cultural foundations for the institutionalization of language in the realms of law and public policy (cf. S3).

Our research questions are approached by way of close textual readings informed by such critical practices as aesthetic response, cultural studies, and new historicism. We are particularly attentive to questions of affect and emotion in the production, reception and dissemination of culture. In short, we undertake both formal-aesthetic and symbolic-ideological analyses of texts and contexts with a view to the ways in which such work can enrich public discourse, state policy and civic life.


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