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EU-US Relations at the Local and Personal Levels

Submitted by on 12 Jul 2012 – 11:33

Deborah Reed-DonahayBy Deborah Reed-Danahay, Professor of Anthropology, State University of New York at Buffalo

My current positions as both President of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe and Director of the Center for European Studies at the University at Buffalo provide an excellent vantage point for seeing connections between Europe and the United States.  The year 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe (SAE), a unit of the American Anthropological Association dedicated to studies of Europe with a focus on cultural, political, and social issues.  Socio-cultural anthropologists based in the U.S. turned to studies of contemporary Europe in the mid-20th century in order to understand such issues as the relationship between local and regional regions and nations, national identities, culture change, urbanization, and linguistic diversity.

As the European Union has grown, the focus on American anthropologists working in Europe has come to incorporate studies of the EU and increasingly we cannot ignore the presence of the EU in the cities, town, and villages in which we do research.  Our primary method is ethnography, which means that anthropologists spend time doing participant-observation research in the homes, offices, schools, hospitals, markets, and other venues.  We also do intensive interviewing to get the perspectives of Europeans on their own lives and experiences.  There is a growing interest in the anthropology of Europe on issues of immigration, public policy, citizenship, post-Socialist societies of Eastern Europe, and the expansion of the EU.

My own research trajectory reflects the range of projects.  I started out doing research on education in rural France in the early 1980s, looking at issues of national identity and regional identity in France as well as the strategies of farming families to perpetuate their family farms and encourage some children to stay in farming. Much of that work focused on the ways in which national educational policy gets translated at and influenced by the local social milieu. I also studied life histories and memoirs written by former peasants.  Subsequent research focused more on the European Union’s educational policies for primary education, including the exchange programs fostered by the Socrates program, and how this was implemented at the local level in rural France. My more recent work is on immigration and issues of social and cultural citizenship in Europe, with a focus on Vietnamese in France.  I have also done research among Vietnamese in the U.S. and so adopt a comparative perspective on their experiences in Europe and in America.  Among my other four books, one edited book in particular focuses directly on this comparative perspective:  Citizenship, Political Engagement, and Belonging: Immigrants in Europe and the United States (Deborah Reed-Danahay and Caroline Brettell, eds., Rutgers University Press, 2008).  In the past two years, I have been invited to share these comparative perspectives with colleagues in research clusters at universities in Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, and the U.K.

Here at the University at Buffalo (UB) of the State University of New York, I am founding Director of a new Center for European Studies (CEUS) that facilitates scholarship and teaching about Europe and the European Union.  In 2011, we had our first major conference, in collaboration with the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy at UB’s Law School.  We invited an international group of legal scholars, social scientists, and humanists to discuss the topic of “Realizing Europe: The Lisbon Treaty in Perspective.”  This conference also included a representative form the European Delegation to the United States in Washington and Honorary European Consuls based in Buffalo.  In addition to our major conferences, we hold monthly talks by area faculty on their ongoing research projects in Europe.  Buffalo is located in Western New York right on the border with Ontario, Canada, and is a city with a long history of European migration.  The city itself has several sister city arrangements with European cities and active civic associations related to the Irish, Polish, German, and Italian history of migration here.

Having just finished teaching an undergraduate course on anthropological perspectives on contemporary Europe at UB, I can attest to the keen interest among young people here in learning more about Europe not only as a place to visit, but as a partner with the United States in coming to terms with urgent social, economic, and security issues.  Relationships between Europe and the U.S. are thus being forged not only at diplomatic and economic levels and in the major metropolitan capitals of the U.S., but also at more local levels among everyday citizens, students, and scholars in smaller cities such as Buffalo.


Society for the Anthropology of Europe

Center for European Studies (CEUS at UB)