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Workshop Voluntary Associations in the Yugoslav Space:  Relations with State and Family from the Late 19th Century to the Present 9-10 December 2015, Collège de France, Room 1

Workshop Voluntary Associations in the Yugoslav Space: Relations with State and Family from the Late 19th Century to the Present 9-10 December 2015, Collège de France, Room 1

In May 2014, a dozen scholars gathered in Budapest for the Workshop « Voluntary Associations in the Yugoslav Space since 19th Century », supported by the CEU Institute for Advanced Study and CEU Department of Gender Studies. On that occasion, people from different academic backgrounds – History, Anthropology, Sociology, Gender Studies – together developed a challenging, two-day conversation on the changing forms and meanings of Voluntary associations/Non-governmental organizations (VAs/NGOs) in the Yugoslav space, from the age of empires to post-socialism. Individual papers, and in particular the discussions that accompanied them, sketched challenging research directions for an original understanding of social movements, activism and sociality in the Yugoslav space under a variety of state structures and social realities. Organized with the support of CETOBaC, LabEx TEPSIS, Idex PSL et Central European University, this second workshop aims to further explore and fine-tune some of these research directions. As the former meeting, the goal is to put together scholars working in various disciplinary traditions having in common two features: an interest for the Yugoslav space, before, during or after the existence of a Yugoslav state, and research experience with the specific institution of the voluntary association.

Notwithstanding their temporal and spatial ubiquity, VAs/NGOs seem to have a number of unifying elements that make them identifiable: voluntary and selective membership, limited goals fixed in statutes, self-government with written rules, elected officers, decision making in regular meetings, compliance with the laws of the state but also autonomy from higher political bodies. Identified with a plethora of different names – Verein in German, cemiyet in Ottoman Turkish, udruženje, udruga, or društvo in the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian language, združenje in the Slovenian language, etc. – associations emerged when this part of Europe was integrated into the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires. Already in this early period, the associations entered and structured the public space with a number of missions: promoting education, taking care of the poor, facilitating sport, leisure and festive cultures, modern agriculture, promoting religious or national values, struggling for gender equality, etc. Supported, controlled and/or hindered by the state, associations maintained their organizational networks in the post-imperial space, expanding during the period of constitutional parliamentarism and surviving through periods of autocracy and royal dictatorship, war and foreign occupation. Even the establishment of a socialist state, legitimized by the dictatorship of the proletariat, did not erase completely this eminently “bourgeois” institution, which has continued – at least to some extent – to coexist with state organizations. During and after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, voluntary associations – often known at this stage of the story as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – continued to play a major role in the transformation of civil societies of the successor states.

In this second workshop, we would like to focus on one specific topic: the changing relationship between VAs/NGOs, the state and the family. According to traditional sociological views, civil society – and thus associations, as its most frequently evoked incarnation – are conceived as being opposed to both the state and the family, a sort of free space for collective agency escaping from the strictures of both kinship structures and of the state. More recently, scholars of civil society have convincingly shown the problems with drawing a clear-cut border between the state and VAs/NGOs, and tend to see this border as porous, shifting, and subject to negotiation. We thus ask: what kinds of relationships have VAs/NGOs in our region have with empires, states, and super-national actors (e.g. European Union)? How did this relationship – shifting among collaboration, collusion, and conflict – change over time? Is it somehow legitimate to speak, at least to some extent, about a “socialist civil society” or “fragments of civil society under Yugoslav socialism”? In what ways have states attempted to hinder, support, and/or coopt the activities of VAs/NGOs? In what ways have associations used the state to reinforce their legitimacy and to collect resources? Older scholarship on civil society placed VAs/NGOs in opposition to the family as well, a delineation that can likewise been called into question. How did kinship ties affect the membership and agendas of the associations? How did family networks affect access to associational decision making and the gendered division of associational labor?

With a view that will range from the imperial age to post-socialism, going through the interwar and socialist periods, this workshop aims to develop a cross-disciplinary conversation on the historical trajectory of the voluntary association in this part of Europe. Of particular interest to this workshop is the way in which voluntary associations also become implicated in relationships to states and empires, clientelistic practices, kinship ties, and the consolidation and politicization of collective identities. The workshop aims to privilege an actor-centered perspective, focusing on the trajectory of individual organizations across space and time.

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Collège de France

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