The paperback edition of the volume Border Encounters: Asymmetry and Proximity at Europe’s Frontiers, edited by Jutta Lauth Bacas and William Kavanagh, was published by Berghahn Books in March 2016 (ISBN 978-1-78533-219-7; also available as eBook). The volume presents a series of eleven European case studies on how, and to what extent, the border context influences the social relations between people at a political frontier. All of these are set in the context of rapidly evolving European borders, be it in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union or due to the expansion and strengthening of the EU. The collection of case studies has grown out of a MedNet workshop held by William Kavanagh and Jutta Lauth Bacas at the 8th EASA Biennial Conference in Vienna.
In 2014, the Journal of Mediterranean Studies (University of Malta), presented a Special Issue (Volume 22, No. 2) with the title Reflecting Anthropology in the Mediterranean, which was edited by William Kavanagh, Jutta Lauth Bacas, and Paul Clough. Based on papers presented at a former MedNet workshop at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, contributions to the special issue draw on major categories and discourse in the anthropology of the Mediterranean and expand on their relevance for future anthropological endeavours.
The reflections presented in this new issue of the Journal of Mediterranean Studies (Vol. 22, No. 2) reveal an unexpected continuity in the discursive field of Mediterranean anthropology. The concepts of honour, patronage, familism (or family networks) and connectivity (or border crossings), to name a few, have been understood as central to the discipline since its very beginning. After a critical turn in the anthropology of the Mediterranean in the 1980s and 1990s, when some of these basic concepts had been criticized as biased and reproducing cultural essentialism, Mediterraneanists working in the area today reconsider and re-evaluate these earlier criticisms anew.
The result is of course not a turn back to culturalism, but a new contextualization of those basic categories as useful instruments for better understanding changing conditions and circumstances in specific field sites. And as the contributors to this new issue of JMS (Vol. 22, 2) show, concepts of honour, patronage, familism (or family networks) turn out not to have lost their explanatory power. Having undergone a critical reflection, re-evaluation and contextualization, they still function as analytically relevant tools for studying what we understand as the multiple and fractured realities of the Mediterranean today.
In times of turmoil in many countries surrounding the blue ‘corrupting sea’, this close understanding of complex realities based on meticulous and extended fieldwork seems to be more needed than ever.