ESR 1 Blog October 2021: Gabor Erlich

I hate traveling and ‘explorers’. Yet here I am[1] at the National Library of Iceland writing my blog. Okay, hate might be a bit of an overstatement, there are many more things out there to hate. I cannot stand the bewildered masses and their entitlement that by default comes with the state of being a tourist. It is especially strange to experience such an influx of mostly ‘Western’, upper-middle class leisure migration in Reykjavik. On the other hand, I am fully aware of the importance this industry plays in the lives of many-many locals. I grew up near to a small town called Siofok, which has been the epicentre of tourism in Hungary for a very long time: it is a town on the lake Balaton with excellent connections to the capital both on road and rail. The summer population exceeds the dormant winter headcount tenfold!

Then, I also lived in Budapest for many years, in fact, I moved there right around the time it became an international hot spot for tourism. Although, since I or my family never had the chance – or rather, the capital necessary to jump-start entrepreneurship – I mostly experienced the dark side of the industry, such as working very long night shifts during the summer by the lake, as well as serving third-wave artisanal coffee in the ‘party-triangle’ of Budapest for jet-set start-uppers and Lonely-Planetiers while struggling with rent which skyrocketed thanks to Airbnb and the likes.

But this is not what I wanted to write about at this fall afternoon in the library. It just came to my mind battling my way here. I was going to share some details on the progress of my research.

Most importantly, I have been working on the structure of my thesis, which I know, might not sound as huge of an achievement if you read the blogs of my ‘esteemed colleagues’, some of whom already have complete chapters written. I guess my way, or plan, is a bit different, so I also have to calm myself time to time. It is not a competition. I have been reading extensively over the past months in order to get a stronger grasp of the niches of the fields I am trying to work within, which, I feel is going well, so this seems to be the right time to start working out a concrete structure. I consider it as putting together a detailed plan for the long term, a plan that I know I will divert from in many instances, nonetheless, a plan, via which I will be able to progress in a more organised manner.

Further, it is a great opportunity to receive feedback from my supervisors, for which I am really grateful.

The main reason for it happening only now, is that I am trying to merge the findings of three fields that are rarely connected from the perspective of art, let alone socially engaged art. These are, as you might now, Marxist/Marxian political economy, critical theory and the study of the former ‘Eastern Bloc’ from a world-systems based decolonial perspective. In order to build a strong narrative that also proves the necessity of my research, or makes clear its contribution to the field, I must build a structure that practically helps the narrative to unfold, one that reveals the intertwined nature of the studied fields and the CEE region.

This is why I have decided to start with the specifics of the CEE region as a semi-periphery. It is, I believe, vital to show the origins, or rather the reasons of the region’s current state. One might ask, ‘what is this obsession with my original habitat, why would it be significantly different from any other places, if, as I keep saying, we all live in a system that is to be understood as global?…’ The reason – in my understanding  – is that, although, I also share the opinion of many and consider this late networked stage of capitalism as global, I also am convinced that it does not mean that it is evenly global. Some of you might remember that I was mentioning the ‘unevenist school’ in an earlier entry, referencing Neil Smith’s cardinal book. If I was to suggest some further reading on the topic for you, avid reader, I would wholeheartedly suggest Wallerstein, Arrighi, as well as the scholarship of those young researchers who form the Group for Public Sociology ‘Helyzet’, especially Agnes Gagyi, Mark Aron Eber, Tamas Gerocs and Andras Pinkasz. All these young Hungarian social scientists draw on world-systems analyses when producing knowledge on the semi-peripheries. There is a series of webinars happening these days, co-facilitated by the TransNational Institute and some of the members of ‘Helyzet’, with the next occasion happening on the 4th of November. They’ll discuss post-ad decoloniality in the CEE region. I suggest you register here.

Now that I mentioned this group, I think it is the good time for me to go back to my reading and say goodbye to you with connecting the first and the last paragraphs: Tamas Gerocs and Andras Pinkasz, when talking about the restructuring of the Hungarian economy in the 1970’s and 1980’s, argue that Hungary served as a bridge between the East and the West by buying new technology from the West and exchanging that crude oil with the tech-savvy but mismanaged USSR. On a similar note, Siofok, the small town on the lake Balaton, also served as a bridge of some sort, given that it was a place where people from West and East Germany met while on vacation. Families and friends finding themselves separated by border walls and barb wire could travel to Hungary and reunite, if only symbolically for a couple of days.

[1]  A détournement: I am re-using the opening sentence of Lévi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques

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