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Myths of Europe

A Theoretical Approach

Chiara Bottici

What are the myths of Europe? This article provides the conceptual framework through which this question may be approached. It begins by defining myth in such a way as to distinguish it from other forms of political symbolism and points to the distinction between cultural and political myths. From here, the relationship between mythical and historical narratives is analyzed via a study of how the main narrative cores through which Europeans have perceived themselves have worked in different periods and contexts as both. It concludes with a more detailed analysis of some of the icons that convey the myths of Europe.

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Denis Vuka

This article examines the visual construction of the myth of the Albanian national leader in history textbooks. By applying visual social semiotics, it explores the function and usefulness of this myth during the critical years of Albania’s self-isolation from 1978 to 1990. Depicted in recurring episodes that were decisive for the existence of the national community, a capable leader emerges as its savior. His figure is perceived as a symbol of unity and as the only actor able to pave the way toward a bright future. This article argues that this myth served to legitimize power and secure social cohesion.

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Natalia Starostina

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917, many Russian writers including Ivan Bunin (1870–1953) and Nadezhda Teffi (1872–1952) immigrated to France. Their works were imbued with longing for the bygone epoch and for their lost motherland. In Russian émigré literature, this nostalgic outlook produced the mythology of the Belle Époque as the period of prosperity and social harmony. This romanticized view of the past became integrated in the political and intellectual discourses of two influential French writers, Romain Gary (1914–1980) and Elsa Triolet (1896–1970). The article addresses how Russian nostalgia for a pre-1917 period paved the way for the rise of the myth of the Belle Époque, a myth that became increasingly influential in twentieth-century French history.

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George Johnston’s Tibetan Interlude

Myth and Reality in Shangri-La

Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell

In 1945 Australian war correspondent and later novelist George Johnston undertook a journey on the Tibetan Plateau with fellow American correspondent James Burke. Johnston later wrote about this adventure in his memoir Journey Through Tomorrow (1947) as part of a wider account of his travels in Asia during the Second World War. This article considers the Tibetan section of his narrative with a focus on the influence of English novelist James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, with its depiction of a Tibetan utopia in the form of the lamasery of Shangri-La. In doing so the article considers Johnston’s text as an example of the challenge faced by travel writers in negotiating the territory between myth and reality in representing the ‘truth’ of their experience, and as a narrative that avoids the worst of the orientalizing traits of many other travelers’ accounts of Tibet.

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Stéphane Baciocchi

Marcel Mauss, Henri Hubert and Robert Hertz. Saints, Heroes, Myths, and Rites. Classical Durkheimian Studies of Religion and Society, edited and translated by Alexander Riley, Sarah Daynes and Cyril Isnart, Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, ‘The Yale Cultural Sociology Series’, 2009, 221 pp.

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Laurie Stoff

This article discusses the experiences of Russian nurses in World War I. An examination of Russia's sisters of mercy—as Russian nurses prior to 1918 were called—in World War I reveals the significance of women's medical service and exposes the fallacy of the notion of war as a distinctly male experience. Russian women's wartime nursing experiences share many of the features of the male war experience. Although conventional wisdom draws lines of demarcation between the active killing and dying of combat and the passive nurturance and support of nursing, in reality, Russian women's wartime medical service blurred such separations. In many ways, the narratives of female medical personnel mirror those of male combat personnel. The nurses who served in Russia during World War I indicate clearly the variety of ways that women intersected with and were affected by the war and the inadequacies of gendered notions of wartime experience.

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Brian C. Rathbun

Germany's behavior during the lead-up to the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003 seemed to confirm that the country is marked by a strategic culture of pacifism and multilateralism. However, a closer look at German actions and pattern of participation in military operations reveals that German pacifism is a myth. There was no cross party consensus on German foreign policy in the 1990s around a principled opposition to the use of force. Even in the early years after the Cold War, the Christian Democrats began very quickly, albeit deliberatively and often secretively, to break down legal and psychological barriers to the deployment of German forces abroad. Pacifism persisted on the left of the political spectrum but gave way following a genuine ideological transformation brought about by the experience of the Yugoslav wars. The nature of Germany's objection to the Iraq invasion, which unlike previous debates did not make ubiquitous references to German history, revealed how much it has changed since the end of the Cold War. Had the election in 2002 gone differently, Germany might even have supported the actions of the U.S. and there would be little talk today of a transatlantic crisis. It is now possible to treat Germany as a "normal" European power.

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To Smile and Not to Smile

Mythic Gesture at the Russia-China Border

Caroline Humphrey

This article examines the role of smiling as a performative gesture at the northeast border between Russia and China. It argues that the border is a place where ‘myth’ in the sense proposed by Roland Barthes is manifest in the comportment of people when they see themselves as representing the civilization of one side or the other. In this situation, smiling and not smiling are elements of particular communicative registers that enact political myths in life. Highly gendered, these agentive-performative gestures exist amid other functional and affective registers, which can override them. The article also discusses the ‘helpers’ who mediate in cross-border trade, whose image is also sometimes subject to mythic imagination.

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Migration Destination Choice as a Criterion of Self-Identification

The Case of Young People Leaving Norilsk and Dudinka

Nadezhda Zamyatina

The article is based on a questionnaire distributed among the pupils of eight high schools in the city of Noril’sk, the city possessing the most extreme environmental conditions among the large Russian Arctic cities. Here I claim that the choice of migration direction is based on individual experience and social status. The local geographic myths and institutional environment are also relevant in making these choices. The method of using the geographic preferences and choices as a key to understanding the sociocultural phenomena of the city of Noril’sk provides significant insights. Since the tendency to express the intent to migrate is very strong among Arctic cities’ residents, I propose using such intentions as a new method for studying social processes in the Arctic. The direction of migration plans can also be used as a marker of a person’s social position in the North.

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Delphine Letort

The controversies triggered by the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher’s young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) have focused on suicide and downplayed discussions of rape as a central plot device. Making use of stereotypical characters (such as the cheerleader and the jock) and archetypal setting (including the high school), 13 Reasons Why delves into the reassuring world of the suburban town; it deals ambiguously with the entwined notions of gender and power encapsulated in the teenpic genre. A detailed analysis of the series indeed reveals that its causative narrative reinforces the rape myth by putting the blame on girls for events that happen to them. In this article I explore the tensions of a TV series that endorses the rape myth through the entertaining frame of the teenpic.