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TRANSIT Report Summary

Project ID: 317590
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Belgium

Final Report Summary - TRANSIT (Transnationality at Large: The Transnational Dimension of Hispanic Culture in the 20th and 21st Centuries)

In the past 4 years a large-scale research program was carried out by KU Leuven in collaboration with 7 research centers worldwide: Roehampton University (UK), Universität Konstanz (Germany), Université Blaise Pascal-Clermont Ferrand (France), Universidade São Paulo (Brazil), Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Argentina), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico), University of California, Los Angeles (US). All of these centers shared an interest in the transnational dimension of contemporary Hispanic culture. The project was funded by the European Committee as part of its FP7-Marie Curie-People-initiatives (in particular, I.R.S.E.S.), and matched funding was provided by the University of California, Los Angeles. The funding enabled some 50 researchers from Europe, Latin America and the US to take part in a wide range of collaborative activities (international conferences, workshops, postgraduate seminars...) in order to examine the impact of transnationality in four different areas: space, memory, literary discourse and audio-visual media. For each area, an international team of researchers, with specific competences in the field, was defined within the TRANSIT-framework.

Transnationality is defined in this context in two ways: 1) as an objective condition of contemporary culture which manifests itself as an increased interaction beyond the traditional nation-states under the influence of accelerated globalization; 2) as a theoretical and analytical paradigm which heavily impacts on the Humanities. In spite of its long tradition in transnational thinking and identity-formation, the Hispanic world had not yet been confronted with this important paradigm, mainly because of language barriers between English and Spanish. A shared bibliography was provided on the website, the major publications which defined the concept of transnationalism were translated into Spanish, and theoretical contributions were written in Spanish and Portuguese in order to clarify the notion for a non-Anglophone audience.
The encounter between specialists in transnationality and renowned researchers in Hispanic studies at the various encounters organized by the TRANSIT group led to critical confrontations between conceptual tools offered by the paradigm and new domains of application. Thus, for instance, the project tested out the analytical potential of Michael Rothberg’s notion of “multidirectional memory” – a concept which refers to the productive interplay between memories related to different national pasts -, as well as the interpretative possibilities offered by Saskia Sassen’s notion of “global cities”: the nodal points of organization around which the global circulation of people, capital and goods is structured. Rothberg’s concept proved especially productive in the context of Spain’s and Argentina’s remembrance of “disappeared people” during the Spanish Civil War and the Argentine dictatorship. The notion of “global cities”, in turn, was fruitfully complemented by the one of “micro-geographies”, which was proposed by Sassen herself and takes into account the more layered structure of the Latin American city. Other topics of debate for the research groups on memory and space (in which the aforementioned concepts were discussed) were the Holocaust as paradigm for historical violence, the importance of national borders for imagined communities, and the meaning of “neighborhood” in transnational cities.
The research team on literary discourse defined two main points of attention: the genre of the essay and literary theory. As a privileged site of reflection on national identities in Latin America and Spain, the essay proves to be the quintessential genre to measure and define the impact of globalization. Specialists found traces of transnationalization in the essay’s current reframing of the experience of exile, its foregrounding of the tension between the national and the transnational, and the increasing generic hybridity it displays. The team on literary theory reflected on the relationship (and tension) between “postcolonialism” and “transnationalism” as literary theories that succeeded each other in academic writings on Latin America.
Finally, the team on audiovisual media meditated on the function of two genres as key players in transnational culture: the postcard and the road movie. In the first case, the postcard proved an important means to construct images of Caribbean identity aimed at a transnational audience in the context of early tourism and industrialization. In turn, the road movie, was analyzed as a traveling genre between the US and Latin America, which eventually even gave rise to the new variant of the counter-road movie. Besides an international conference at the UNAM, which brought to the fore many other cases of transnational visual culture, a documentary film on transnational memory in the Southern Cone called “Interrupted Memories” was made by project member Michael Chanan, and screened at several festivals and scientific events.

After four years of intense collaboration, the impact of the project will be felt in several ways.
First of all, a host of publications, both in Spanish and English, have appeared in Europe, Latin America and the United States (or are currently in press). The systematic planning of these publications, the productive cross-referencing they sparked off, and the prestige of the publishing houses involved will guarantee a strong impact of this project on academic thinking in the years to come, especially since recent evolutions have turned transnationality into a more pressing topic than ever.
Secondly, several young researchers ‒ trained in transnational thinking by TRANSIT ‒ obtained postdoctoral and tenured positions in the course of (and in many ways also because of) the project, and will ensure continuation of the research lines in new guises both at the centers that already collaborated with TRANSIT, and at previously uninvolved universities (Newcastle University, Utrecht University, Universidad Católica de Santiago de Chile).
Third, several spin-offs of the project are currently extending the findings of the project to new domains of application: film festival culture (a PhD project financed by Ecuador), translation studies (a PhD project on Peruvian literature financed by KU Leuven), and digital memory (an ERC-starting grant which created 4 full-time research positions).
Finally, the many results achieved and the academic bonds and friendships that sprang from the project leave the coordinators with a strong network in the academic world, which will prove fertile ground to launch new applications from. Indeed, during the final meeting, all coordinators expressed their strong interest in continuing research collaboration in the future and came up with concrete possibilities for new projects. For the Latin American partners, in particular, TRANSIT has been essential to remedy the lack of opportunities for academic mobility at their institutions, and moreover brought their work to the attention of academic communities from which they otherwise would have remained excluded. For the researchers based in the US, accustomed as they are to an arguably more individualistic academic culture, it was an enriching experience to be immersed in the dynamics of a collective research program, and to engage in experiences of co-writing an co-organizing. For the European researchers, finally, TRANSIT provided invaluable opportunities to cross borders both within Europe and beyond, and enabled us both to access new and important channels of publication offered by the network and to grow in experience regarding intercultural academic management.
In view of the increasingly loud voices calling for closed borders in today’s societies, it was even suggested at the closing meeting that time has come to turn transnationality from the intellectual object of study it was in the past four years into an issue for concrete political agendas, and an opportunity to foster social commitment emanating from the academic world itself. Whatever happens, the very positive experiences shared by all members of this project will certainly remain as an uplifting example of transnationality in times of adversity.

Related information

Documents and Publications


Monique Vanhaeren, (Advisor European Projects)
Tel.: +32 16 32 95 61
Fax: +32 16 32 65 15
Record Number: 197740 / Last updated on: 2017-05-10