Accepted paper:

Telling Lives: the framing and reception of narratives in Yugoslav refugee families


Spela Drnovsek Zorko (University of Warwick)

Paper short abstract:

The transmission of memory in families implies a certain intimacy that can be juxtaposed on the wide brush strokes of grand narrative. But how can we approach the issue of creativity in these stories? I ask how children of refugees receive, interpret, and discuss parental narratives of Yugoslavia.

Paper long abstract:

The transmission of memory within family circles, particularly in the context of diasporic everyday practices, implies a certain intimacy and precision that can be juxtaposed on the wide brush strokes of grand narratives. But is the distinction between private and public memory a useful means of approaching the question of family stories? I want to ask how children of ex-Yugoslav refugees who emigrated with their families receive, interpret, and discuss parental narratives of Yugoslavia, its break-up, and the family's migration. I am particularly interested in how the intergenerational space in which stories are spoken and heard shapes how they are understood as stories, even when marked by their lack of narrative structure - and how we may be able to approach the idea of "creativity" without privileging particular narrative conventions. My secondary goal is to challenge the unproblematic use of "narrative" in academic writing by asking how the concept of story is conditioned in the relational space of personal contexts and the ethnographic encounter. Such a challenge necessarily leads to questions about the imaginative ways in which conversations are formed while also being subject to established public narratives of recent (post-)Yugoslav history. To what extent can transmitted, second-hand stories offer insights into the intersection between familial memories and the grand narratives that have produced national ideologies, refugee laws, and miles of newsprint? I want to suggest that the "art" of memory also lies in carefully, often deliberately, negotiating the blurred spaces where stories change to both fit the speaker and listener.

panel P13
Arts of memory: skilful practices of living history