SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES Alternative visions of the Euro-Mediterranean
"My Mediterranean is beautiful only because it is multiple,” says the Tunisian writer Emma Belhaj Yahia. This complex space – a patchwork of nations and cultures and the setting of a shared, but contrasting, tumultuous history – has been the focus of attention for a group of social science and humanities researchers for several years now. At each stage of their research, their projects have broadened to embrace new disciplines and new partners. Following on from the ‘Représentations’ projects, and the creation of the Remsh network, the Ramses2 network of excellence has now opened up to include the whole of the Euro-Mediterranean area. Experts from 16 countries are currently working within this network, delving deeper into the three ‘inexhaustible’ themes initiated under Remsch: memories, conflicts and exchanges.
A writer and a researcher each wrote a short text. These unusual ‘teams’ came from ten countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Germany) and the result was ten pieces jointly presented as ‘Représentations de la Méditerranée’. "The Mediterranean is more than a geographical area, it is a symbolic area. The writers brought to it their imagination and the researchers their analysis of how the Mediterranean is represented in the political and cultural history of each of their countries,” explains Thierry Fabre, of the Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l'Homme (Mediterranean Centre for Social Sciences) in Aix-en-Provence (FR), Coordinator of the ‘Représentations’ (1998) project and the research that followed on from it.
Paths to explore In 2003, it was the turn of Remsh (Networks, Exchanges and Conflicts in the Mediterranean Area) to take the stage. This thematic network, supported by the Fifth Framework Programme, brought together 13 European research centres for the social sciences and humanities specialising in the Euro-Mediterranean area. Eight countries were included: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Their objective was to take stock of the social science research in their field. The most ‘visible’ result of their cooperation was the creation of Bibmed (Mediterranean library – see box), as well as a number of publications.
The Remsch partners usefully demonstrated the limits of the traditional approach of the social sciences and humanities to Mediterranean studies given their tendency to be too strictly disciplinary, and the difficulty of building bridges between disciplines. Historians, for example, often systematically differentiate between the European Mediterranean and the Islamic Mediterranean. Geographers (with the exception of the Germans) tend to limit the region by applying criteria such as homogeneity or heterogeneity. As to the political scientists, they tend to study sub-units based on a common culture or history.
The researchers also highlighted the narrowness of ethnocentric approaches that, however open-minded the individuals involved may be, necessarily reflect a point of view rooted in time and space. “In this world that is called the Mediterranean, the populations do not have the same story, the same priorities or the same demands. The same historical shocks (most notably colonisation) are felt very differently depending on whether you place yourself on the European shore (France, Spain, Italy) where the focus is on the Latin Mediterranean – the Mediterranean of a single shore as a tool of reference and legitimacy for colonialism – or on the Maghreb shore.” (1) The Remsch partners therefore decided it was time to move up a gear by launching Ramses2.
Memories, conflicts and exchanges The Ramses2 network brings together 33 research institutions in the EU and seven non-European Mediterranean partner countries. The focus is on interdisciplinarity (sociology, ethnology, political science, international relations, history, geography, archaeology, study of ancient texts, etc.) in pursuing a broader approach to the ongoing investigation of the three main themes of study initiated by Remsch: memories, conflicts and exchanges.
Memories because “the Mediterranean forms an area of contiguous and superimposed civilisations whose originality lies in a rich combination of conflict and convergence, and the intertwining of ideas”, as the project presentation explains. The memories evoke a shared past rooted in the same type of environment, a tradition of proximity and circulation, similarities and also the desire to express one’s difference.
Conflicts because the Mediterranean "has today become one of the main theatres of tension on a world scale, crossed by various fault lines, which are at once political and economic, but also social, cultural and religious.” For the project partners, the notion of a ‘clash of civilisations’, as defined by Samuel Huntington, which tends to oppose Islam and the West, gets blocked in the Mediterranean which lies between the two. “Our research work on the relations between Europe and the Mediterranean world are aimed precisely at moving beyond this dualism, which is more ideological than scientific, and to propose studies on the cultural and political interactions in the Euro-Mediterranean region.”
As to exchanges, these are an evident aspect of this area that, since the most ancient times, has been the scene of intense traffic (especially of goods) and of intermingling. The emergence of transnational communities and cultures is not a new phenomenon in the Mediterranean. They have long been a feature of this area, taking on a distinctive form, the nature of which remains to be defined.
"These three lines of research provide a framework for significant areas of study on the Mediterranean. This work began with Remsh, but the big difference now is that we have moved from being a European network to being a Euro-Mediterranean network that includes partners in the southern and eastern Mediterranean. This is a very innovative approach as it incorporates other views than those of Europeans and this clearly changes the situation. Researchers are shaped by their culture and their traditions of thought, so a network of this kind makes it possible to decentralise the approach and imagine other ways of doing things. Depending on whether you come from Alexandria, Algiers, Paris or Berlin you do not speak about conflicts, borders or memory in exactly the same way.”
(1) All quotations are from Thierry Fabre.
Bibmed, virtual and tangible
Initiated by the Remsh network, and further developed by Ramses², the Bibmed (Mediterranean Library) site brings together databases of bibliographical resources (network of libraries, internet sites, on-line documents, etc.) of interest to researchers, students and the general public. The ...
Initiated by the Remsh network, and further developed by Ramses², the Bibmed (Mediterranean Library) site brings together databases of bibliographical resources (network of libraries, internet sites, on-line documents, etc.) of interest to researchers, students and the general public. The documents are accessible in a number of languages, including Arabic.
The documents cover all the social sciences and humanities and the sources range from the ancient to the present day. Bibmed is arranged in three thematic categories, in line with the fields of study defined in the Remsch and Ramses2 projects: memories, conflicts and exchanges. In reality, these are headings that cover an infinite number of sub-themes, such as diasporas, women in society, the media, informal economies, urbanism, etc.
The virtual library is set out on three ‘levels’. The first (SiteMed and Docmed) identifies on-line resource centres and provides a body of documentary and bibliographical information. The second (Bibmed) provides a bibliographical records base and gives access to journals and periodicals accessible on the internet. The third provides bibliographical summaries of the state of the art.