Gend003


Performing identities: age and gender related viewpoints to the poetics of past, present, and future 
Convenors:
Venla Sykäri (Finnish Literature Society)
Heidi Henriikka Mäkelä (University of Helsinki)
Stream:
Gender and sexuality, media and the visual arts
Location:
A203
Start time:
23 June, 2015 at 10:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
2

Short Abstract:

Age and gender influence identities performed in practical and symbolic, poetic and every day arenas. This panel explores how age and gender informed visions of heritage, present-day realities and future expectations materialize in cultural representations, performances and personal narration.

Long Abstract

Performance and performativity are central topics in cultural research. In this panel, we ask how generational cultural knowledge and the identification of age and gender as a constituent of one's identity affect the choices of performative modes, roles and genres. Age is a physical and mental factor conditioning the evaluation of the present, references to the past and visions of future. Gender often provides a further factor in the identification of the performative modes and roles through which cultural knowledge is bound to action. This panel explores how performing is connected to these social categories, and how performances of identities materialize in different cultural and situational contexts. For instance, how are experiences of old age narrated, interpreted and performed? How are these experiences intertwined with cultural and societal ideas regarding ageing and other social categories? Furthermore, how do young people differentiate themselves from preceding generations and relate to their images of future in their performative choices like hip hop, or how men and women adopt gender-specific images of self by performing in poetic genres that link them to the past generations?

We warmly invite papers that address the cultural meanings and practices of performing age, generation and gender related identities in different kinds of performances and social circumstances. Presentations may focus on empirical, theoretical or methodological issues.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Marta Botikova (Comenius University in Bratislava)

Paper short abstract:

Slovakia has been frequently characterized as a traditional, mostly rural society with dominating patriarchal principles and high respect for seniors. Under these conditions representation and visualization of the concept of tradition involves, in particular, symbolic depiction of aged people.

Paper long abstract:

I will discuss a question concerning the link between representations of aged people and visualization of traditional culture. Ethnography was formed as a discipline with certain political objectives. Visual documentation has become an important tool for depicting specificity of particular ethnics. According to my preliminary findings, in the first half of the 20th century capturing old people was the dominant theme of ethnographic photography in Slovakia.

Photographic works of outstanding artists - photographers usually present aged people dressed in folk costumes, on the background of beautiful countryside or village surroundings. However, prevalence of elderly "models" is not the only significant feature of visual symbolism in these works. Their message would legitimize cultural uniqueness and permanence of the traditional values. Another point those documents show is the systematic relation in the representations of old people and children. That might be interpreted as expressing continuity of the tradition. Situations depicted in picturing men and women are also giving more possibilities for interpretation. People are shown during work, in the church, among relatives or neighbors. The question arises: are there any differences to be found in relation to gender and its symbolic meaning?

The idyllic view of traditional society was gradually denied in one stream of ethnographic photography in the late 60-ties. Traditional way of life was not comprehended that much as a source of beauty anymore: more it was presented as sore heritage, a dead end and frailty. Interestingly enough also those images concentrate on depicting old people in their everyday life.

Author:

Eva Eglāja-Kristsone (Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia)

Paper short abstract:

In my presentation I will analyze the identity of young widows in Latvian society and culture. As data, I use autoetnography, interviews and online conversations, and my aim is to see how this type of social category has developed through a certain period of time.

Paper long abstract:

When one thinks of a widow, the image that mostly comes to mind is someone who is old. However, a certain percentage of widows are still very young when their significant other dies, in their twenties, thirties or forties. Becoming a young widow can entail multiple challenges: it is harder to find peers, one may have young children and there is a social stigma to cope with. The representation of the widow is indicative of the changing society and perception of women as shows my fieldwork among young widows in Latvia. As a widowed "insider" myself, I will analyze the widow performance in society and culture using autoetnography, face-to-face interviews and online conversations to see how this type of social category has developed through a certain period of time. Anecdotes and folksongs about widows, stereotypes used in literary texts and media from the 19th century to nowadays - what is their meaning to the widowed woman who is constructing her new identity as a widow? Besides extended interviews, I also have studied online text conversations of young widows in an Internet based network meant mostly for young parents and women and not specially designed for widows/widowers. In my presentation I will focus on the ways how young widows adopt to this gender-specific image in the 21th century.

Author:

Alexandra Rau (LMU Munich)

Paper short abstract:

The categories of age and gender influence identities in terms of work and conditions of life. The presentation is based on a research project that focuses on practical strategies of women in their pension age struggling with precarious retirement.

Paper long abstract:

The project is dedicated to a vehement societal problem: the experience of precariousness of elderly women in Germany. On the one hand, it is well-known that in particular women are not sufficiently secured against poverty by old-age pensions due to gaps in their work biography and their traditional family orientation. On the other hand, elderly women's strategies of coping with poverty have not yet been subjected to detailed research. Based upon biographic case studies, this project explores (1) in how far biographic backgrounds and social environments as well as sociopolitical dispositions enforce and shape poverty among elderly women and (2) what kind of practices and strategies they develop to cope with their everyday struggles against the threat of social descent.

The exploratory study aims to conduct biographic interviews with elderly women in Munich and is supplemented by participant observation in their daily life worlds and social networks. The interviews will be interpreted in thickly described case studies bringing together the individual experiences and self-images and the macro-contextual societal problems and discourses by which the narratives and practices are supposedly informed. This project wants to contribute to a deeper understanding of the various skills, tactics and strategies of women in their retirement age developing creative sources of livelihood and finding ways of making their own living and/or seeking support by relatives, neighbors and social institutions.

Author:

Janika Oras (Estonian Literary Museum)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyzes age and gender specific performative practices of outstanding Estonian female oral singers, and the changes that occurred in these practices during the period of modernization in the 19th-20th centuries.

Paper long abstract:

The paper is based on memories about the impressive performances of elderly female singers, about their acts, behaviors, verbal utterances and singing in the context of ritual and everyday interaction. The metaphor in the title borrowed from a fieldwork diary refers not only to the performers' age but also to the gradual "silencing" of older vernacular oral traditions in Estonia, in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

My attempt is to point out the age and gender related aspects of the performative practices of these women who were part of a predominantly oral culture. To discuss the changes in age and gender specific performative strategies connected to the modernization the examples of women representing different generations will be used.

When interpreting the folklore archives' documents, one has to consider that the mediators-narrators and collectors representing a different generation and mentality might not have been able to understand the events the way the women expected. Another problem is the lack of information about the earlier performance practices of the same women. That is why several types of role models have to be considered when observing each individual performance practices: the common roles of elderly women in traditional society, a kind of freedom connected to nonfertile age and the widow status; the role of an outstanding creator or the important actor in a ritual that allow or imply violation of "average norms"; the marginal position in the community - caused also by a changed culture context.

Author:

Heidi Henriikka Mäkelä (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

During the last two decades in Finland, young professional folk musicians have re-vitalized an old genre of oral poetry. The songs are seen as a tool to create a connection between old and new generations. The musicians emphasize that, through runo singing, a "chain of mothers" can be recreated.

Paper long abstract:

During the last two decades in Finland, young professional folk musicians have re-vitalized an old genre of oral poetry. This genre, Kalevalaic runo singing, has been a central poetic language used in the Baltic-Finnic area, and it is also one of the most nourished symbols of Finnish nationalism. The sung poems have traveled a long journey from the lips of nineteenth-century Viena Karelian singers to the concert halls of today's Helsinki. With the extensive collections of textualized folk poems, the organized archival institutions and the spread of systematic folkloristic research as a background, runo singing has become a salient part of the professional new folk music field.

The new runo singing is seen as a tool to create a connection between tradition and modernity and old and new generations. Most of the contemporary musicians are female, and they argue that runo singing provides a channel to understand the ancestors' (especially female ancestors') mental landscape and history. They also emphasize that, through runo singing, a "chain of mothers" can be recreated and experienced.

In this paper I shall examine how this connection is made, and how contemporary musicians perform ethnicity and gender in relation to questions posed by runo singing, heritage and "maternal inheritance". The paper is based on my dissertation and the fieldwork I have done in years 2011-2015.

Author:

Venla Sykäri (Finnish Literature Society)

Paper short abstract:

Verbal improvisation is a form of performance where much is at stake. This paper analyzes the Finnish young men's choice to learn to improvise and perform in the contemporary genre of freestyle-rap. In addition to their personal attraction to verbal expression, this choice is a social argument.

Paper long abstract:

Within the creative elements of hip hop, improvised rap or freestyle, the spontaneous oral composition and performance of rap verses, is often closely bound to subcultural in-group communication and evaluation of rank between performers. For the urban youth of color in U.S., performative exhibition of their "street-consciousness" is a necessary mode of claiming a place in the community. On what grounds, then, do Finnish young men, who live in a different society, choose to develop skills in such demanding genre, which may bring them glory but also renders them vulnerable in front of their peers and the audience?

This presentation is based on recent fieldwork with Finnish freestylers and discusses the performers' ambitions and sensitivities as verbal improvisers in a modern European society. The grounding values of the now global hip hop movement crystallize in the association of knowledge with movement, and the twofold demand for both personal development and the creation of communality. For the Finnish youth, these values also translate into a criticism of mass culture and pre-scripted models and roles that many performers find too tight in the contemporary Western society. Beyond enthusiasm towards rhythm and poetic language, the choice of freestyle is a strong statement of the ability of an individual to command one's own creativity and to readily participate in communicative, social interaction. As such, this contemporary global oral form returns to highlight the poetics of the present very similarly as the oral poetries did in the past oral communities.