ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field

Returning home

The need to belong: Greek Cypriot refugees returning ‘home’

Lisa Dikomitis, University of Durham

The Larnatsjiotes are the former inhabitants of the small village Larnakas tis Lapithou, located in the now occupied Kyrenia district in Cyprus. As a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974 Cyprus has been divided and a part of the Cypriots became refugees in their own country. Since April 2003 Greek Cypriot refugees have the possibility, for the first time in twenty-eight years, to visit their villages and houses in the north of Cyprus.

These recent changes in the field forced me to rethink my research project, as well my initial field site as my research focus. For my MA dissertation I conducted fieldwork in the divided capital Nicosia, focusing on the Larnatsjiotes’ village memories. It was a mental visit to an inaccessible place.

During my PhD research I will conduct fieldwork with both the former inhabitants of Larnakas, the Larnatsjiotes, and the present inhabitants of the village, Turkish Cypriots coming from two villages in the south of Cyprus. This obviously necessitates the framing of new research questions. For example, in what ways do both groups construct and reconstruct the notions of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’.

In this paper I focus on visits to my ‘new field’, the actual village of Larnakas tis Lapithou. Joining the Larnatsjiotes on their numerous visits to Larnakas gave me an insight in what ways they are recapturing their selves and how they express their sense of belonging to this particular locality. Previously the Larnatsjiotes had an image of the village that was necessarily romanticized and painted in by their discourse about loss. Now they began engaging in what can be called religious practices to transform their return to a pilgrimage.

Return to what? Homesickness amongst refugees and anthropologists

Stef Jansen, University of Hull

Many studies and policies concerning refuge and displacement contain an underlying assumption that attachment to place, and particularly a place associated with a certain 'culture', is prominent amongst survivors of involuntary displacement. Often, evidence is found in the desire to return 'home'. When repatriation is considered to be out of the question, the focus moves to the recreation of old cultural patterns in the new place. Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork amongst internally displaced persons in Bosnia and amongst Bosnian refugees in Serbia, the Netherlands and Australia, this presentation develops a critique of the problematic role of place in such approaches.

My research indicates that homesickness and nostalgia was indeed paramount amongst many displaced Bosnians. However, this should not be misunderstood as a symptom of a desire to actually move to the currently existing protectorate of Bosnia-Herzegovina, even amongst those whose previous residence is now in an area controlled by military-political forces of their 'own' nationality. Most of my research subjects were well informed about the socio-economical and political transformations in the region they fled, and they saw little in common between the post-war Bosnia and the one they had fled. However, this did not mean I did not find a 'myth of return': if anything, many expressed a strong desire to return 'home', but the 'home' they yearned for was distant in temporal, not spatial terms. In other words, many refugees and displaced persons wished to travel back in time to the pre-war days, not in place to the new Bosnian context.

So why do many refugee studies and policies rely on the assumption of a desire to return? Starting from the above ethnographic material, I believe that this tendency should be seen in the light of the implicit models of knowledge present amongst those who formulate them. Focussing on anthropology, I argue that it can be understood as a corollary of a form of nostalgia present within the discipline itself. Anthropology itself, it seems, contains a sense of homesickness for its pre-1980s academic 'home': an anthropology of bounded cultures, discrete national phenomena and knowable identifiable chunks of localised culture, with all the epistemological certainty, the disciplinary security and the sense of purpose this entailed. The desire to return that I did not find amongst Bosnian refugees might thus be more prevalent amongst those who study them.

Route metaphors of roots-tourism in the Scottish Highland diaspora

Paul Basu, Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex

This paper examines three root metaphors -- which are inevitably also route metaphors -- through which roots-tourists in the Scottish Highland diaspora typically characterize their genealogical journeys: namely, ‘homecoming’, ‘quest’ and ‘pilgrimage’. Using Turner’s discussion of metaphorical process in Dramas, Fields and Metaphors as my point of departure, I am also concerned with a more Cliffordian exercise of unpicking the ‘intertwined roots and routes’ of identity formation in a modernity of multiple translocal attachments.

At one level the use of these metaphors may be seen as a way for roots-tourists to distinguish their endeavours from what are perceived as more trivial, ‘pleasure-seeking’ touristic practices. Less constrained by academic anxieties regarding misplaced essentialisms, I suggest that for the majority of my informants, pilgrimage (for example) is popularly understood as representing a ‘sacred other’ to the secular practices associated with tourism. As such, pilgrimage may be understood as an ideal of sacred travel which, as the weight of recent anthropological work on the subject has demonstrated, may not exist in practice, but which may nevertheless prove ‘good to think’ with. The same observation holds true for quest and homecoming, although, as I shall argue, these represent alternative, but similarly profound, ‘others’ to tourism.

To merely conclude that, through their choice of descriptive metaphors, diasporic heritage-seekers in the Scottish Highlands consider themselves to be engaged in a kind of sacred (or otherwise profound) practice is not, in itself, particularly enlightening. If this reflects the denotative or primary meaning of pilgrimage, quest or homecoming in this context, then it is necessary to go beyond the ‘hearth of denotation’ and explore what other meanings these metaphorical referents connote. I therefore consider the connotations of each of these metaphors in turn, before demonstrating how their various ‘fields of meaning’ converge in the practices of roots-tourism. My contention is that by making journeys to sites associated with their family histories, roots-tourists are also (metaphorically) enacting these alternative symbolic processes, and through this metaphorical transference their journeys become structured by and infused with qualities associated with these ‘other’ forms. I suggest that homecoming, quest and pilgrimage together provide a more appropriate ‘grammar’ (including a repertoire of actions and attitudes) for roots-tourism than tourism itself is able to offer: a grammar, furthermore, which has the potential to bear fruit and empower these journeys with the capacity to effect personal transformations, rendering them quite literally ‘life-changing’ experiences for many participants.