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Spaces of the Past: Emotional Discourses of ‘Zavičaj’ (Birthplace) and Nation in Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Popular Music

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This paper explores how approaches based on emotion and ‘affect’, and approaches based on language and discourse, may complement each other in understanding the relationship between music and spatio-temporal collectivities in Yugoslavia and its successor states. The study of popular music in this area has concentrated particularly (though not exclusively) on two kinds of collectivity, one of these being ‘the nation’ and the other being ‘Yugoslavia’ as a transnational collectivity that may still exist culturally although no longer exists politically. Accounting for the affective or emotional dimension of music casts attention on another level of collectivity, the ‘zavičaj’ (‘birthplace’), which exists simultaneously as material landscape and a web of directly experienced social relations, through which notions of origin, ancestry and home can all be evoked. To remember the zavičaj is not to access a fixed impression of this space in the past but to construct a present memory of the past space. The emotions this evokes may be easily transferable on to the nation or may perhaps place the intimate zavičaj and the abstract nation in an antagonistic relationship. Evaluating textual and ‘affective’ approaches to understanding one particular mode of remembering the zavičaj in ex-Yugoslav/post-Yugoslav popular song, the paper argues that musicians and songwriters from the regions discussed here established a coherent set of emotional discourses that invited active remembering. Although during and after the break-up of Yugoslavia these practices became open to co-option as a means of evoking the nation (an abstract collectivity made up of multiple zavičaji), the zavičaj should still be recognised as a distinct form of collectivity that music researchers should treat as a level of analysis in its own right. More research is, however, needed on the differences in how emotional discourses of the zavičaj have been expressed in popular music from region to region.

Affiliations: 1: University of Hull,


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