“The researcher of ethnicity in Poland – dilemmas and challenges”,

“The researcher of ethnicity in Poland – dilemmas and challenges”,

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  Artykuł przygotowany do książki   Ewa Nowicka (red.)  The Politics of Culture. Perspectives of stateless nationalities/ethnic groups . Warszawa: Wyd. Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. Ss. 34-44. Katarzyna Warmińska   The researcher of ethnicity in Poland  –   dilemmas and challenges The last twenty years have not only substantially changed the position of ethnic minorities in Poland in the legal or social aspects and had an influence on increasing the freedom of their activities within the cultural and political fields, but have also posed new challenges to the researcher of this sphere of social phenomena. Earlier, in the communist  period, strongly entangled in the ideologized and politicized ethno-cultural discourse as  promoted by the state, the researcher grapples with other problems despite his/her intellectual freedom he can enjoy nowadays. At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, the persons who were professionally interested in ethnicity as well as the members of the minorities were mainly focused on identifying the state of cultural or identity resources being in possession of individual communities after restrictive  policies on the part of the communist state. Generally speaking, the studies published at the time either reported disappearance of ethnic cultures (where their vision dating back to the interwar period was the point of reference) or indicated that the minorities existed in a more or less unchanged state as compared to the earlier years where the attention was focused on the  processes of surviving or maintaining ethnicity despite the pressure to assimilate. One can say that the researcher faced a choice: to show or accent one perspective or the other. The  perspective can be called pro-assimilation or pro-pluralist, which was in part a derivative of the accepted theoretical option or a broadly understood attitude toward cultural difference. At that time, many researchers became proponents of the reviving minorities, who were in a sense  privileged due to their knowledge and the power of an authority in defining cultural reality. Among some researchers, especially those representing an anthropologizing perspective, one could notice a romantic attitude, an attitude full of fondness toward th e “subject of the research”, which was posed as marginalized and harassed and whose voice had not been heard for years,  therefore it required support in the process of self-definition, which in turn enriched the research with an extra value. This in part was in harmony with what was going on among the interested themselves, who were anxious about their own culture and focused on ‘building’, ‘saving’ or ‘reviving’ their own traditions and on organizing the rudiments of communal functioning in the new conditions. In my opinion, especially crucial were the influence the researchers had at the time and their descriptions or interpretations they created, having the shape of identity projects carried out by members of minority groups, which is a well known phenomenon of a mutual influence  between science and social practice. The following years have shown that the descriptions and interpretations not only constituted a scientific model of the reality created for the circumstance of studying a fragment of a culture but were also a model of for the reality which, accepted or contested in individual groups, in a sense became part of the experience of the members of the groups.  Naturally, the mentioned above issues require separate research, like for instance a meta-analysis of the ethnic groups studies conducted at the beginning of the 1990s, both in the scope of the theory which was then applied, the manner of describing the phenomenon (the language used for its description, the manner of categorizing the issues, etc.) as well as their reception in individual groups. At present, the location of the ethnicity researcher is different from the one in the  beginning of the transformation period. However, before I discuss the dilemmas or challenges mentioned in the title of this presentation, I wish to draw your attention to two issues. Firstly, the view presented here is a resultant of the reflections on my own position toward the research subjects and the researched reality. In this case, the autobiographical aspect is crucial. To some degree, my reflections are based on my own experience of working in the field among Polish Tartars, whom I have been continuously studying over the last 20 years, and among Kashubians who became the center of my studies around the years 2004 and 2005. This  perspective of two moments of entering the field where chronology matters (as it records significant social and political changes in the research) as well as the fact that the experience has been gained in two distinctly different ethnic communities allow to accept a comparative  perspective, which in turn brings forth similarities and differences and consequently the specificity and the character of problematic issues when researching ethnicity.  Secondly, it is important from the point of view of the manner of grasping the discussed issues that the researcher should assume an anthropological identity, which locates the specific scope of the discussed problems, which in part is a resultant of challenges facing the discipline as such. Coming back to the issues that are fundamental in my article, I will describe the dilemma facing the ethnicity researcher in Poland in the context of three aspects which are interrelated: the specificity of practicing anthropology at home; the contemporary changes in ethnicity as a social phenomenon; and the ethical issues in the researcher-the researched relations. My considerations aim at posing certain questions rather than formulating unequivocal statements; they have a signaling character, I will focus on just a few issues, not necessarily the most important ones either. The essence of the anthropological perspective upon the world of culture is focusing attention on the issue of difference. When studying at home, the anthropologist as a seeker of distinctness faces a few important issues to decide upon. First, his fundamental question is how to deal, together with the subjects, with the issue of the scope of collectiveness in socio-cultural experiences, which can be reasonably assumed, and, while doing so, how not to lose sight of significant variables. At this point, I wish to concentrate on one of the aspects in ethnic research, namely on the specificity of the experience of a member of an ethnic/minority group in Poland (together with a package of problems characteristic for their situation) and the role of structural variables in the context of which the researcher should specify his/her location and the resulting point of view on ethnic issues. The researcher’s biography can place him/her within the d ominating group, which should induce reflection on his/her part or make him/her sensitive to potential consequences of this fact, especially that, when doing research at home, he/she is unable to  become aware of the limitations of his/her own cultural outlook as directly and easily as the one  being in contact with the one out far. Another issue is the fact that an ethnographer [a social anthropologist] may also be  positioned by the researched subjects as a representative of the dominating group from the point of view of values or interests (a Pole, a Catholic, a person from the “center”), which makes his/her status problematic. For a researcher who is cogitative and sensitive to the issues of injustice and who strives to reduce the asymmetry between himself/herself and the informant,  the situation is difficult because it increases the potential area of inequality. Interestingly enough, those anthropologists who, due to their biography, can communicate ethnic identity which is different from the dominating one  –   in this case Polish  –   sometimes use this element of their image as an argument for a better insight (here: empathetic) or a better understanding of the researched community exactly by virtue of a certain type of a collective experience. They do so both toward the representatives of the communities and at scientific forums. This issue can have significance in the anthropological practice and in an ethnographer building his/her authority. Second issue is avoiding the trap of homeblindness that is easy to entrap those who do research at home as it requires sensitivity and reflexiveness toward what is domesticated. What is political and realized by the state and its institutions in the form of certain practices which normalize ethnic issues can be domest icated and, in a sense, “transparent” (invisible). This thread turned out to be important for some ethnic researchers during the census research. At that time, in my opinion, justified discussions occurred which pertained to the methodology of statistical study, which  –   potentially neutral  –   in reality generates a certain state of knowledge/  power in relation to ethnic relations in Poland. During communists times, as an actor on the  political scene, the state had a role of an oppressor. And how is it positioned nowadays in ethnic studies? To what extend is the state’s policy toward minorities or their logic or vision of the world [that is at its basis] critical or attentive, the latter’s shape being a derivative of a certain  pool of interests and values supported by an apparatus of repression even if it is of a soft character. The motif of demystification of power, which shows the shape of the world as a resultant of a policy, not technical requirements, is a significant aim for social sciences. Third, seeki ng distinctness in one’s own home can lead to a trap which is usually defined as exotization of the studied subjects, the process being in a sense the effect of looking for an “object for anthropological research”. The scope of similarities and differences  in the studied social context (here: an ethnic one) is usually determined by informants themselves when they reveal in their statements or practices their shared vision of the world; however, the anthropological description as an interpreting one in a sense also creates those differences, and  –   which is important - labels them. The heritage of the years passed is folklorization of ethnicity, which due to the dominating vision of the Polish society as a monoculture, deprived the actions of the ethnic groups of their political dimension to start with. And what is the strategy of the description now? Are the researchers looking for “authentic” cultures or, adopting a constructivist point of view, they cannot see the cultural proxemics within those communities  realized under everyday habitual bonds but pay attention to the processes called the invention of culture? Adducing H. Blumer, one can say that the social world mounts challenges to the researcher, it shows resistance and prods the researcher to verify their adopted points of view. Such is the case within the ethnic phenomena which, in comparison to the earlier years in Poland, have taken on a new character. The analysis of ethnic communities in Poland shows that their members have been increasingly active in organizing their cultural resources, that they are getting engaged in activities aiming at shaping the policy of identity that is in line with their interests, consequently broadening their own subjectivity and agency. Instrumentalization, institutionalization and ideologization of ethnicity are the key words which partly reflect the faces of contemporary ethnic phenomena. These transformations raise many challenges for the researcher that are interesting from the point of view of the issues discussed here. First of all, with his/her claim that was valid just a dozen or so years ago to be the authority to decide what is authentic, valuable or worthy of preservation, the anthropologist has to deal with the appearance of other voices, not only the voices of group activists, which consciously create the policies of representation on different public forums. He/she has competition in social researchers who come from the group and who are equally competent to decide about the shape of the analyzed reality. Some ethnic communities have their own educated elites from among which academics are recruited to professionally study their ethnos. In the case of the groups, the lack of symmetry which is intrinsic to the anthropologist-local relation undergoes balancing to some degree where the local who has no epistemic competence was unable to objectify his/her cultural experience. One can say that a specific rivalry for authority takes place at times, and the basic argument for a field researcher which legitimizes his/her perspective “I was there; I saw” loses its meaning when placed in opposition to the fact of a strong grounding of knowledge in the researcher- ethnic’s cultural experience. Another question is how to treat such a dual identity (professional/ethnic) of a researcher in the academia and the fact that, at times, the speaker freely alters the positions from which he/she voices his/her opinion as the discussion which shows the attitude of attentive sensitivity toward the native differs from the discussion with a professional researcher. Thus, what should  be the accepted practice during anthropological debates? Should it take the shape of an open communication in which participants communicate to each other their own ethnic identification
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