Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies

Breadcrumb Navigation


THE LIQUID CITY. Adriatic Life-worlds in Transformation

16.09.2018 – 22.09.2018

In 2018, the joint Summer School of the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies and of the Elite Graduate Program for East European Studies dealt with different aspects of life at and with the (Mediterranean) sea from an interdisciplinary perspective. The summer school took place from September 16-22, 2018, in the Croatian port of Rijeka. Local cooperation partner was the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Rijeka.


Debates about where exactly the boundaries of Southeastern Europe lie have been endless and rather fruitless. Although the western “border” of the region, the Adriatic Sea and its shores, has never been questioned, one could ask to what extent a sea is a boundary at all and not much more a connecting element, facilitating transfers, exchanges and entanglements? Crossing the sea, literally and metaphorically, also guarantees the livelihoods of those living on its shores. The sea as a space of communication and interaction is the main reason why port cities are often considered exemplary places of openness and diversity.

The 2018 Summer School of the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, organized in tandem with the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Rijeka, will explore the importance of the sea for Southeastern Europe on the basis of the exploration of one concrete site: the city of Rijeka. In important ways, Rijeka exemplifies processes shaping coastal urban life worlds in Europe and around the world. On the other hand, it also represents the more local and regional contested history of the Upper Adriatic. Neither can it be dissociated from what is going on in Croatia and the wider region today.

The Summer School will have the sea-society-nexus as its central focus, and explore the specifics of this relationship and the opportunities and problems it brings with it in the case of Rijeka. We will discuss the relevant theoretical and comparative literature on port cities in combination with texts on Rijeka, complementing this with our own explorations in and around the city. Our debates will be framed by five cross-cutting themes, which help to link theoretical concerns with local perspectives:

Environment and tourism: how does this maritime environment affect social and cultural patterns, and how does this relationship change due to tourism? Nowadays, tourism is a major source of income in Mediterranean communities, one of the most viable (and often only) forms of entrepreneurial activity securing a stable income, having a transformative impact on local social relations and natural environments. Nature is however more than just a resource for tourists’ leisure: it helps to feed the population and determines the various microclimates which influence, for example, farming practices. How are local subsistence, tourism and the environment linked, and what changes have occurred in this relationship?

Worlds of labor: the sea is also an economic factor of importance. How do the realms of work and labor at sea or at the sea-shore look like, how are they affected by nature and sea-born connectivity? Rijeka is a case in point: the city is the location of a major shipyard that builds large ships for international customers; it hosts a port, a ferry line and a plethora of small and large businesses directly connecting with the sea. At the same time, the city has also experienced radical and momentous changes in employment opportunities and labor relations after the end of socialism.

Memory cultures: the sea and its shores is also a space of memories. We know that Rijeka has been the object of often very different and sometimes contentious memory projections: for Hungarians, Rijeka is a symbol of a bygone empire and its maritime connection that was lost with the end of the empire; many Italians remember “Fiume” as part of Italianità on the other side of the Adriatic. Within contemporary Croatia, Rijeka reminds us of the contested borders in the past – and as always, the question of how the legacy of communism should be dealt with, looms large.

Multi-ethnicity and languages: port cities, thanks to their function as trading and transportation hubs, are often real melting pots of different languages and ethnicities. Modern nation states and their nationalistically inclined political elites are often suspicious of such cosmopolitan urban sites. Rijeka has experienced its share of nationalist policies and nevertheless, the legacy of multi-ethnicity is still alive. How is ethnic, cultural and linguistic difference represented and articulated, and how does the sea continue to play a role as a space of communication and connection?

Rijeka as the European Capital of Culture 2020: Rijeka has been selected as the first Croatian European Capital of Culture for 2020, and is currently preparing itself for this prestigious role which will put the city on the European map. How does the city understand and present itself to the outside world and how is ‘culture’ in a local, national, European, and maritime context defined, what are the different key stakeholders and how do they participate in the program, and finally, what opportunities does the ECoC program offer to transform and regenerate the city after a period of substantial decline?

Each of these themes will be explored in the keynote lectures given during the morning, which will then provide guidance for the group discussions about literature and the small empirical research projects that will be carried out in the afternoons. The idea is therefore to combine theoretical with practical engagement. We will not only listen to lectures, deliberate and discuss, but also explore the urban spaces and the surroundings of the city, ask relevant questions, engage with people, the urban built environment and its social fabric, and draw our own conclusions. We will analyze various media and look beyond what can be seen at the immediate surface. We hope to leave Rijeka not only with a better grasp of its economic, social and cultural fabric but also a better understanding of the power of the sea – and for the maritime dimensions of Southeastern Europe.

For the detailed programm please see the attached .pdf-files.

Keynote Speakers: Vjeran Pavlaković (Rijeka), Borna Fuerst-Bjeliš (Zagreb), Sanja Puljar d'Alessio (Rijeka), Nataša Rogelja (Ljubljana)

Public Lecture: Daša Drndić (Rijeka) [tbc] and Nikola Petković (Rijeka)

Organizer: Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, Elite Graduate Program for East European Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Rijeka

Concept: Ulf Brunnbauer, Marie-Janine Calic, Ger Duijzings, Adrian Grama, Heidrun Hamersky, Björn Hansen, Anna-Dorothea Ludewig