Im Westen nichts Neues: reflections on the Council for European Studies Europeanists Conference(s)

PilliTime flies and it’s already been two weeks since I came back from the 23rd International Conference of Europeanists organised by the Council for European Studies (which I’m a member of) in Philadelphia, PA. Before I summarise my reflections on this year’s conference, let me share some thoughts about the previous year’s event held in Paris, France.

The 22nd CES conference was my first contact with the wider community of (the) Europeanists, and the main reason I took part in the conference was to get familiar with the modus operandi of this particular research association. I was pretty happy when my presentation proposal was accepted (less than 50 per cent were) and was looking forward to get to know the theoretical, methodological and epistemological approaches that are shared by the Europeanists. To my surprise, the conference was rich in panels and really good papers focusing on both social movements and gender studies, and I participated in a number of interesting and inspiring discussions. I especially enjoyed the Authors meet critics panels, where I became familiar with The Headscarf Debates. Conflicts of National Belongings by Anna C. Korteweg and Gokce Yurdakul and LGBT Activism and the Making of Europe by Phillip Ayoub and David Patternotte (eds). I also appreciated that during plenary sessions organisers tried to ensure some sort of gender balance, and even if in the majority of cases it meant 1 female scholar discussing with several male academics (the only exception was a plenary session on mobilisation against gender equality in Europe, where the gender balance was nearly perfect), my feminist sociologist’s heart was almost satisfied. Almost, because among so many gender specified papers I couldn’t find a single one (well, except for my own) dedicated to men and masculinities issues.

However, the lack of the (critical) studies on men and masculinities approach wasn’t the most disappointing part of the conference, as the part of my identity that suffered the most was connected to my Eastern European origin. First of all, among roughly 800 papers I found 16 dedicated to Eastern European specificity, and even if my calculations were understated it is more than certain that the “Eastern” perspective was present in less than 10 per cent of the papers. And this is rather odd in light of the fact that Europe does not end at the Oder River, and Eastern European countries/citizens represent half of the continent. But ok, underrepresentation of “Eastern” papers can be somehow understood as, perhaps, there were not enough abstracts sent or their quality was not high enough. In fact, the lack of an Eastern perspective was incomprehensible in the plenary sessions (where participants are invited), which were entirely dominated by Western European and American scholars, and not even one Eastern European academic took part in any of the six sessions. Therefore, the neglect of the regional diversification of Europe and the focus placed almost entirely on the Western part of the continent was the main factor of my overall disappointment and some sort of intellectual distaste that I felt for weeks after leaving Paris.

However, within a few months my emotions had subsided and I decided to give the CES conference another try. And this is how I ended up in Philadelphia in the middle of a charming springtime. At the beginning of the conference I was even optimistic, mostly due to the fact that in the programme I discovered 7 papers that seemed to be focused on men and masculinities issues! I decided to see/hear them all and… the feeling of disappointment came back. Two of the most exciting papers were withdrawn from the schedule and one appeared to have a totally misleading title where the phrase “fathers against sons” was used as a metaphor and had nothing to do with a custody/alimony conflicts analysis that as I was hoping for. Another misleading title, “When Does He Speak for She? Male Feminists in the European Parliament Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality”, was used for the paper about male members of the Committee and had nothing to do with either the (pro)feminist movement’s activists or with Emma Watson’s social campaign He4She. Another paper on the “Entrepreneurship Potential of Former Male Convicts” was given in a session that I couldn’t attend and, eventually, I was able to enjoy only one “male” presentation dedicated to far right youth culture in Germany.

In fact, the last presentation, along with the paper on German fighters joining ISIS (even if its author did not address such obvious gender dimensions in her analysis), were the only rays of light that were able to reduce my disappointment caused by, again, the general lack of an Eastern European perspective. Just like in Paris, not one Eastern European scholar was asked to take part in any of the plenary sessions, and again, among around 600 papers I was able to identify 17 dealing with Eastern European issues. Moreover, the general discussions during sessions gave me an impression that for many Europeanists Europe equals Western European Union member states, and neither so called “new EU members states”, nor non-EU Eastern countries (such as, you know, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and many others) and societies aren’t defined as European. To my surprise, I discovered that in terms of territory the biggest European country is France, and that in continental Europe the most neoliberal economy can be found in Spain. My frustration wasn’t broken by the fact that one panel was dedicated to discussing the current situation in Poland, and at the moment I’m pretty convinced that as long as the Council for European Studies does not change their politics regarding Eastern Europe and finally acknowledge the fact that east of the Oder European studies exist as well (the best example is my alma mater), I cannot think of any reason to attend their future events.

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