EDUCast - interview about Displacement and Disorientation in Romance-Speaking Countries

EDUCast - interview about Displacement and Disorientation in Romance-Speaking Countries picture

Delve into the insightful interview where two distinguished researchers, each bringing a unique perspective to the topic of “Displacement and Disorientation in Romance-Speaking Countries” will engage in a wide-ranging discussion. You can listen to the original podcast in French on the EDUC YouTube.


KYLOUŠEK: Welcome to EDUCast, the podcast of the EDUC-SHARE Horizon 2020 project. With this podcast series, you will have the opportunity to meet several researchers from our partner universities and to discover an exciting research and innovation topics and their links with society.

Good afternoon, bonjour. My name is Petr Kyloušek. I´m professor at the department of Romance languages and Literatures at Masaryk University and my colleague is Silvia Contarini from Paris Nanterre University. And we organized a research seminar about displacement and conflicts in Romance language countries. Now I will switch into French and our conversation will be in the language that we share in common.

I’m going to take up the subject again. With Silvia Contarini, and with our colleagues from Pécs, Potsdam, Paris-Nanterre and Cagliari, we organized this second EDUC seminar, bringing together the five universities to discuss the problem of displacement and disorientation in Romance-speaking countries. The first edition took place last year in Nanterre and it was organised by Silvia. The second edition this year is in Brno.

The first question I want to ask my colleague Silvia Contarini is her opinion on this type of research seminars and in particular her impressions on the progress of this seminar.                  

CONTARINI: Hello. First of all, thank you for proposing this conversation about our workshop, our activity. Petr, as you said, this is the second edition of what could be called a summer school, specifically dedicated to PhD students, that is to say, young researchers. So it was intended and designed to expand the horizons of their research. This expansion takes place not only in relation to a theme, which I will return to, but through confrontation with PhD students from five partner universities in Europe. These include the University of Brno, where we are today, and the University of Paris-Nanterre, where we were last year, but the participants are also from the University of Potsdam in Germany, Pécs in Hungary and Cagliari in Italy.        

And I believe that the most important thing is to allow young researchers and older researchers like us to confront each other and to confront their practices and uses, their skills and research subjects. I wanted to say that first of all, because that is what makes this initiative original. I would also like to add that, in fact, the idea of the theme came from you, because last year and two years ago, when we met, you suggested that I organise a conference or an activity around peripheral centres, the notion and dialectic of peripheral centres in Romance-speaking countries. This is a topic that is important to me so I said yes immediately and enthusiastically. Afterwards, we said that instead of holding a traditional conference we could introduce these themes in these EDUC networks, bringing together five universities, and specifically target the youngest students, young researchers. If you wish, we could come back to the theme later, to the progress made this year. But I believe it’s important for those who are listening to us to understand our logic of openness and confrontation between several countries in Europe in our field, which is that of the cultures of Romance-speaking countries.           

Just to be precise, we are referring to Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese studies. Romance languages also include Romanian, but we do not have Romanian professors and students. So we focus on four languages.

KYLOUŠEK: I will simply add that this year’s research seminar covers several topics. There are six workshops in total. Four are related to literature and two are related to language, linguistics, including polylingualism, plurilingualism, multilingualism and contacts between languages. They also cover linguistic policies in Romance-speaking countries. And in literature, I would add topics like places and identities, language and culture, as well as conflicts and mediations between cultures. These are the topics that, in my opinion, are very relevant to the Europe of today.     

CONTARINI: Yes, you wanted me to respond to the topic, so I recalled that last year we started with the notion of peripheral centres, that is to say, the dialectic between what we could call centres of culture and those that are considered peripheral places of cultural and linguistic production. This year we found a logical continuation around the notion of displacement, which includes migrations but also includes mobilities of all kinds. In this regard, we organized the activities around thematic workshops, as you mentioned, ranging from the notion of place, of identity. But the workshop that will take place this afternoon, for example, also addresses the notion of utopia, that is to say, displacement in time, utopia. And the workshop that brought us together yesterday and today is on the notion of conflict and representations of conflict.

As you mentioned, it is very important to approach these topics not only through literature, literary production, but also through civilisation, that is to say, history, for example, of linguistics and culture. This can include cinema, theatre and other means of cultural production. And this is important because in our disciplines we are not only literary specialists. When I teach at my university I am a specialist in literature and civilisation of contemporary Italy, but to address the contemporaneity of Italy before an audience of foreign students I cannot limit myself to literature. I must necessarily address other areas of artistic representation, other fields, including sociology, anthropology, history, cinema, and even media and others. All these topics that we are talking about allow us to confront not only colleagues from other universities, PhD students from other universities, but also research from very different fields, including literature, cinema and history.

Yesterday we had a very nice presentation on the Foreign Legion, for example, on the participation of Hungarians in the Foreign Legion, which greatly interested Spanish PhD students. So that is an example of the diversity of approaches and themes that we address in these workshops. Petr, we should perhaps also mention that we have brought together a lot of people. There are about forty, fifty PhD students and many professors.  

KYLOUŠEK: There are fewer professors. We are less than twenty professors, but there are still forty PhD students participating and that is very positive. I would simply add that, for my part, what really interested me was that there was also a plenary conference on linguistics. Because, curiously, language is always one of the first indicators of conflict, simply because language is not only vocabulary and grammar; it is also a symptom of communication, a factor of communication. And it is very clear that, especially in the times in which we live, but also throughout history, all these issues of encounters, displacements, disorientation and migrations, whether positive or negative, manifest themselves through communication and language.

From this point of view, the boundaries between linguistic disciplines and cultural and literary disciplines are less clear than they seem. Ultimately, one of the advantages of this kind of seminar is the extensive scope of the subject addressed among different universities, different specialists and different specific themes, allowing us to make sometimes quite surprising connections and awaken sensitivities among researchers but especially among students of the new generation, who are able to meet precisely thanks to this seminar. And this creates a kind of cultural breeding ground for the future. I don’t know what you think, but perhaps it would also be good to think about the future in this type of activity.

CONTARINI: If you wish, I can return to the question of plurilingualism and translingualism. You referred to a plenary conference that we had yesterday regarding the notion of translingualism and yesterday and today we also talked about multilingualism and plurilingualism. All of these concepts interact or are important not only in linguistics but also in literature and, more generally, I would say in all the topics addressed when we talk about migrations, displacements or others. Because language is the first thing that is called into question as soon as we depart from uninational dimensions, or monolingual dimensions. And in today’s world we are always departing from monolingual dimensions. I don't know if you wish to address the matter of the way we communicate with each other.                  

KYLOUŠEK: Maybe you do.

CONTARINI: Here we are speaking in French. We could very well have this conversation in Italian, both of us, we could have it in English, maybe not in Spanish. We chose French because it is the language in which both of us are most fluent, but in our workshops, in our summer school, we accept and actively practice all Romance languages. We confirmed last year and this year as well that linguistic intercomprehension in Romance languages is entirely possible and even the most sceptical of the initial participants confirmed that it is entirely possible and were very happy with this linguistic intercomprehension which is also a cultural and not only linguistic intercomprehension, allowing each person to speak in one of the languages that they know, that is to say, Italian, French, Spanish or Portuguese. And this idea came from you, from last year, because you had already practised it elsewhere, and it’s a challenge. So now I would like to ask you what you think about it.

KYLOUŠEK: Precisely because, curiously, I had experienced it with German universities, where not only Romance languages were spoken, but also German. But it was also a bit of a central European affair where German still circulated as a language of communication and everyone was supposed to understand each other. Ultimately it is especially in environments where romance languages are spoken that comprehension is possible. And I can confirm what you said: for our PhD students, the Nanterre seminar was a great revelation because students, especially PhD students, and researchers increasingly tend to limit themselves to a single language of communication. However, language is a gateway to another way of thinking and another way of addressing issues. And I think this is also another advantage of this kind of seminars. French universities address certain topics in a certain way, using French terminology, and in a French style. Italians do something similar, but in a different way. In Central Europe, the Hungarians and people from my country have other habits. And it becomes clear that ultimately there are cultural habits but the other cause is everything related to the connection between thought and language.

That’s more or less what it is and it’s extremely enriching. I will come back to this question of the diversity of languages. I think that one of the great advantages of Europe in the 19th century is that it introduced national languages into the humanities in particular. Today we can talk about French thought and French philosophy and the difference between the French philosophical tradition and the German philosophical tradition and the Anglo-Saxon tradition, so I think that diversity also stems from a different way of thinking because of language. There are other notions, other ways of segmenting reality, other ways of presenting problems, other ways of joining words to string them together in a thought and that is what created Europe’s great wealth. On the other hand, we need uniformity, so to speak, for everyone to more or less understand each other. This problem was overcome before by Latin and now by English, but that’s not all. I don’t know what you think.                

CONTARINI: But you are preaching to the choir. And you just gave a perfect example for those who listen to the content of our debates. These are the kinds of questions that emerge during our debates in these summer schools, in these workshops, that is to say, how we can avoid nationalism and transnationalism, language, monolingualism and translingualism, how we can both have processes of inclusion but also of mediation, safeguard diversity, but also find common moments, and how all this can be done in agreement or in conflict. We talked a lot about conflict today, for example. So all of these are examples of questions that arise when you are writing a dissertation. Today, we had the example of a dissertation on Italian and Portuguese migration in France. we had an example of a dissertation on a Greek character, on Greek women in eighteenth century Venice. So we had several examples of dissertation topics that seem to be far removed, but that ultimately raise a series of questions that are those you are talking about: how to relate to diversity, what to do with diversity, how to integrate it or how to leverage it, how not to suffer because of it, or how to react when we suffer the consequences of diversity. That is just a summary, a very superficial one, of what we get from our exchanges.

And going back to the topic of the discourse of the plurality of languages, the challenge of using only Romance languages can be considered a form of cheeky resistance to the domination of the English language including in the human sciences, although the human sciences emerge and develop in a very rich way in countries that are not necessarily Anglo-Saxon. And today we see that there are a great number of concepts that come to us from the Anglo-Saxon world which we must confront and perhaps reformulate or use differently, finding another way to think about them in our languages, in our cultures. Maybe the word “resistance” is too strong, but it’s a way of affirming  that a world exists beyond the Anglo-Saxon world.        

KYLOUŠEK: I would rather see it in a positive way, that is to say, not as a resistance, but as an incentive for the development of our thought. I don’t know if we’ve covered the questions. I would also like to discuss future cooperation with regard to research. How do you see the future? In a positive or negative light?           

CONTARINI: We can’t ask the question like that, because the answer will be something in between. I think we have some development opportunities. We have an opportunity in the framework of the EDUC network, which includes European universities. That is to say, these are networks financed by the European Union to promote cooperation between universities in several fields. So this is already an opportunity for our universities - those of Brno, Nanterre, Cagliari, Potsdam, Pécs— to find spaces for cooperation in our disciplines, which comprise the cultures of Romance languages. I am very interested in cooperation aimed at young researchers. First of all, because they are the future. Our disciplines are not the ones that receive the most support in general, compared to the hard sciences. They receive much less support. And having young people writing dissertations, studying and beginning research careers in our disciplines is extremely important. So designing and considering collaborations between our universities and us, primarily aimed at young researchers, is a challenge that I am excited to take up. And if I have the energy and the ideas, the possibility of investing in this, I will gladly do so.               

KYLOUŠEK: I also think that getting to know each other well and having a good idea of each other’s capabilities will also allow us to design research topics that will undoubtedly provide revealing input to our fields. And I think that we not only have to organise seminars in the future, but also try to discuss research projects to harness the potential that we have in our universities, in our schools.                

CONTARINI: I would also like to add that it is gratifying, although not surprising, to be able to confirm that we have a very good scientific and personal understanding between the professors from the different universities. Some knew each other before, others met last year at Nanterre and we get along very well. We are all excited to collaborate and to continue our collaborations. And the PhD students also get along very well. They really want to continue. So we should also aim for bigger, more structured projects. As I said, I am completely available.          

KYLOUŠEK: We have to think about it. I think that’s one of the tasks that we have to take on in the future. I don’t know if we have covered all the questions or if you would like to add anything.                   

CONTARINI: Yes, I would like to thank the University of Brno, which gave us a very warm welcome these past few days. We were very well received. The facilities are wonderful, the students are very happy to be accommodated in the student residences, we ate good food, we had a lot of discussions, we had very nice rooms. It was a very warm welcome, in a city that I like very much. Those who had been here before and those who hadn’t were very happy to come to Brno. So I would like to thank you on everyone’s behalf for giving us such a warm welcome.                      

KYLOUŠEK: Thank you for your kind words. I am very glad you enjoyed your stay. I would also like to thank you for participating in this recording and I wish you a safe return to Paris.                    

CONTARINI: Thank you.

Petr Kylousek, Professor - Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Masaryk University (MU)

Silvia Contarini, Professor - Department of Italian Studies, University of Paris Nanterre (UPN)


“The project EDUC-SHARE has received funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101017526.”