Women of Fire

Author: Judit Castellví Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF)Catalonia, Spain

Over the last few decades, enthusiasm for and citizen involvement in local festivities have greatly increased in many towns and cities of Catalonia. Different generations go out to the streets to take part in festive activities. Huge numbers of people attend the traditional parades and performances by giants, fire-breathing fantasy creatures, and devils. Of these experiences, the most popular activities are those that use fire. The correfocs (fire-runs) are the most successful.

Image of women of fire at night with fireworks/sparkers in the background
Scene during the Correfoc (runfire parade)

In one medium-sized city located in the conurbation of Barcelona, there is a group of “devils” exclusively made up of women – something very exceptional, as the majority of local devil groups are composed of men – that has already run for 35 years. This group of women has been studied in the ethnographic research of the CHIEF project with the aim of understanding their cultural practices, motivations, and what they have learned from being engaged in a group of only female devils.

To start with, the expression of culture promoted by the group has its roots in the Catalan culture. Since the Spanish democratic transition began in the 1970s, there has been a movement for the recovery of the traditional expressions of Catalan culture, especially local festivities, which have gained a lot of popularity within the community and have become an important part of local culture.

The diablesses is a self-organised and horizontal group, although it belongs to the city council’s network of traditional culture groups. The context of the diablesses group is found in traditional and popular Catalan culture, particularly in one of its most traditional and widespread expressions: the Festa Major (local celebration), which is celebrated annually for a series of days in every town, village and city in Catalonia. The tradition of Festa Major has been known in Catalonia since at least the 13th century, and it has evolved up to the present. The Spanish democratic transition was a turning point for the Festes Majors, as it led, among other things, to a recovery of the festivities.

Diablesses talking under the sparks during a correfoc.
Diablesses talking under the sparks during a correfoc.

What did change radically during the 1970s was the introduction of fire to the local festivities: almost non-existent until then, fire-related activities began to proliferate everywhere. Although the first written notice of “devils” in Catalonia dates back to the Dancing Talks of the year 1150, during the democratic transition period they became linked to correfocs. This was probably the greatest invention of the Catalan Festes Majors in the last quarter of the twentieth century. A correfoc (literally “run fire”) is a festive street event in which participants parade amidst and under the sparks of fireworks borne by devils, dragons and other figures of a fantastic sort. This modern creation somehow derives from the concept of recovering the age-old practice of playing with fire, which is very present in festive contexts. Although the democratic transition brought about the possibility for women to join the different popular groups as full members, this is still a controversial subject. Continue reading “Women of Fire”

CHIEF Present at IPSA World Conference 2021: ‘Our Lives Our Culture(s)’: How Young People Perceive Diversity and National Cultures’

We are thrilled to share with you that CHIEF members have presented a Panel at the IPSA world congress 2021. The panel was held online on July 10, 2021 and presented key findings of the CHIEF project through 6 papers about young people’s perceptions of diversity, national cultures & minority rights.

Here is the link for more information: https://wc2021.ipsa.org/wc/panel/our-lives-our-cultures-how-young-people-perceive-diversity-and-national-cultures

Carefully considered measures could have a big impact

An empirical study in schools has demonstrated that discrimination and racism are deeply rooted problems in school structures that urgently need to be addressed. Prof. Dr. Louis Henri Seukwa, professor of Education Science at HAW Hamburg, and researcher Dr. Elina Marmer explain why and provide recommendations.

HAW Hamburg, Fakultät W&S, Department Soziale Arbeit, Professor Louis Henri Seukwa, Professor für Erziehungswissenschaften, Fotografiert am Berliner Tor 5 am 22.6.2020

Prof. Dr. Louis Henri Seukwa, Professor of Education Science at HAW Hamburg

How does racism manifest in day-to-day school life and what has been done to stop it to date?
Prof. Dr. Louis Henri Seukwa: Schools are a reflection of society, which means that societal racism is also evident in schools. At the level of society as a whole, it is clear that people of colour or those with a supposed migration background are underrepresented in management positions and at the same time tend to have poorly paid jobs. We see the same picture in schools, as Hamburg’s statistics show. Relatively few students with a migration background attend Gymnasium, and they are overrepresented in Stadtteilschulen(neighbourhood schools). Studies show that these students often receive lower grades for the same performance. There are studies on racist portrayals in schoolbooks, and at the same time such issues also appear outside schools in the news, films and literature.

Unfortunately, too little has been done so far to counter this. Neither teacher training nor educational curricula include a strategy or a concept for systematically addressing the problem within the educational structure. There isn’t even a complaints body. Even the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG) doesn’t protect students adequately. There is an absence of structurally anchored frameworks for protection and action to effectively tackle racism and discrimination. But because schools are public institutions, the political sphere does have direct possibilities to intervene. And because the requirement to attend school means that schools can reach virtually all children and youth, carefully considered measures could have a big impact.

Continue reading “Carefully considered measures could have a big impact”

Culture Exchange: Diversity, Culture and Enterprise – Tuesday 23 February 2021

Aston University is proud to sponsor the Culture Exchange: Diversity, Culture and Enterprise webinar. The webinar will discuss how music is promoting a positive message around culture and diversity in the city of Birmingham.

Aston colleagues Mark Smith, Executive Director of Business and Regional Engagement, Dr Patrycja Rozbicka, senior lecturer in Politics and International Relations and Professor Monder Ram OBE, Director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship, will be taking part in the event. They will be joined by Ammo Talwar MBE, CEO of Punch Records and Grammy-award winning percussionist Lekan Babalola of IFA-Yoruba Contemporary Arts Trust.

Register your free place.

‘A Real Fusion’ of the Coventry Rap Track

Author: Anton PopovAston UniversityUK

On a rainy Sunday in October, a group of young people had gathered in a sound recording studio in Coventry to work together on the music and song that would express their identities, their experiences of urban living, and the issues they face navigating their everyday lives in the city. The result of this collaboration is a six minute rap song track with original music and lyrics composed, written and recorded on that day. https://soundcloud.com/ourlivesourculture/on-my-mind

The production of this rap composition is part of the Participatory Action Research intervention of the Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Future (CHIEF) project, an international research project funded by the European Commission and led by Aston University (Birmingham, UK) that explores young people’s cultural identities, practices and heritage-in-the-making. The Aston CHIEF project team (Dr Ebru Soytemel and Dr Anton Popov) collaborated with young people in Coventry, youth workers and a local non-profit-organisation Media Mania in delivering a Music and Rap writing workshop to provide a platform for young people to empower them in the expression of their culture, identities and needs through the medium of music and poetry. Young people worked with a local rapper, RG The Baron, along with youth worker, Tayyaba Sadiq, to write lyrics, compose the music and record a song of their own.

The participants of the workshop shared all shared interest in music. The workshop also became a platform for cultural interaction and exchange between young people. Thus the bit for the rap was inspired by so-called ‘gypsy jazz’, played by Sebastian (age 14); he and Lubomir (age 12) also wrote the lyrics for the rap song together with rap-artist and poet RG The Baron. The music as well as lyrics of the song has direct references to the cultural backgrounds of the rappers – Slovak Roma (Sebastian and Lubomir) and British Caribbean (RG The Baron). The folk music had been framed with electric guitar played by Joe (age 22) and Ian (age 16), two local punk-rock musicians. The chorus of the rap song had a distinctive jazzy style that was beautifully sung and performed by Destiny (age 16) who had been singing since her early childhood in a local church attended by Coventry’s British Caribbean community. Continue reading “‘A Real Fusion’ of the Coventry Rap Track”

Our Lives Our Culture – Free Workshops for Young People in Hillfields, Coventry

Are you aged between 14 and 25 and want to have your say, do something creative and learn new things?


We are holding two workshops in October with youth worker, Tayyaba, which will give YOU the chance to TELL PEOPLE ABOUT LIFE IN HILLFIELDS and the CHANGES YOU WANT TO SEE.

You can sign up by sharing photos of things that MATTER to YOU!

The workshops will also feature rapper, RG The Baron. You will learn how images, music and poetry can make your voice and ideas sound stronger.

You have until 10th October 2020 to register your interest or for more information contact Tayyaba by email at sadiqt3@aston.ac.uk or WhatsApp on 07415 745 208.

Why Celebrating Festivities Matters: The Mundane versus the Festive

Author: Ilze KacaneDaugavpils UniversityLatvia

In one of her poems related to family upbringing and the succession of female generations in the frames of patriarchal conceptions1, Latvian poetess Ārija Elksne (1928–1984) writes:

“Audziniet labi savas meitas – Iemāciet viņām svētkus svinēt.
Cik nabadzīgas tās ģimenes, Kas tikai darbdienas zina.”2

“Raise your daughters well – Teach them to celebrate.
How poor are the families, Which know only working days.”
[Translation from Latvian mine – I. K.]

A couple of years before, my colleague quoted this poem in a conversation she held with people sharing common views and values with her: she revealed that this poem had become her large family’s motto, as she considered that women are primarily responsible for preserving and continuing traditions in a family. Continue reading “Why Celebrating Festivities Matters: The Mundane versus the Festive”

ECPR General Conference 2020 – 24-28 August 2020

We will be hosting a panel ‘Youth and Globalization: Identities Formation and Consequences’ on 28th August. The panel, chaired by Dr. Renata Franc (University of Zagreb) and co-chaired by Dr. Roger Soler-i-Marti (Universitat Pompeu Fabra), will present some of the key findings of the CHIEF project based on large N surveys of students, in-depth interviews, field studies, and ethnographies. For further details of the event and abstract, visit the ECPR website.

Unveiling Family Photos Workshop in Istanbul – 20 August 2020

Family is a concept that is not only of profound concern in the academic studies of different disciplines, but it is also a concept that has been continually interpreted throughout various forms of art and has had a far-reaching influence on artistic production. Family photos, the visual record of family memory, offer more meaning than as just basic documentation of our special moments. Thanks to them, the traces of social, cultural, economic transformations, everyday life practices, cultural differences and intergenerational relations can be observed. When examined in connection with other concepts such as gender, memory, migration, identity, family, etc., these photos will delineate our personal history and offer us a way to access social forms.

In this workshop, the participants who have rendered their photos as the subject of relations between the past and present articulated how visual images drive their work by passing through their production processes. Focusing on the points where what is reflected by family photos contradict “reality”, they sought ways to reproduce private-sphere images by using artistic methods and reconstituted stories to transform existing perception.

The workshop, a public online event held in Karşı Sanat, is supported by CHIEF (Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Feature) Horizon 2020.

Observing Georgian Street Artists: Young People (Attempt to) Leave their Footprint on the Urban Environment

Authors: Elene Ergeshidze and Rati ShubladzeCaucasus Research Resource CentersGeorgia

Graffiti and street art is a quite novel form of expressive culture in Georgia. Despite the fact that the first pieces of street art emerged in Georgia in the late 1980s, the scene has not grown rapidly until recent years. For the broader public, street art was usually associated with vandalism, damage and distortion of private property, and unacceptable, on the verge of legality. Despite pre-conceptions associated with street art, societal perceptions are gradually changing. Nevertheless, the street art scene still enjoys some attention from social scientists and art critics.1 Within the CHIEF project, CRRC Georgia observed young people engaged in street art. The aim of the study was to examine the practices, attitudes, and concerns of young people in the context of street art. In addition, the study investigated young artists’ positions on different grass-roots cultural practices and emerging contemporary cultural heritage. This blog presents the key findings of the study as relates the challenges young street artists face and provides a brief overview of street art development in Georgia.

The street art community provides insight into youth cultural engagement in Georgia given its diversity: being centred in the capital, artists come from and work across the city’s districts and are from a wide variety of backgrounds. Considering that painting on walls is typically illegal in Georgia, and is subject to penalties under administrative law,2 street art is usually done surreptitiously at night, in abandoned places, or during street art festivals where special permission is provided for work on a particular building.3 Street artists, especially those specialising in graffiti, typically paint under a pseudonym and seek anonymity.

Street Art in Tbilisi Georgia
Image credit: Elene Ergeshidze, 2019

Continue reading “Observing Georgian Street Artists: Young People (Attempt to) Leave their Footprint on the Urban Environment”

Home, Heritage and Belonging

Author: Elina MarmerHaw Hamburg – Germany

In April last year, Simon Wellman and Darren Wood, members of our project team from the Culture Coventry Trust (UK), visited Hamburg to teach young people participating in CHIEF how to produce quality short films using a Smartphone. Between 2019 and early 2020 the team visited all partner countries with the same mission, India being the last in January 2020. Two months later, Simon Wellman contracted the Corona virus and died on 30th of March from complications of the illness.

With my article, I want to remember Simon and his contribution to our work by enabling young people to express themselves, reach out and touch others through the art of video filming.

The aim of the media workshops was to provide young people with skills training to better communicate their cultural knowledge and practices offering them an opportunity to present what they consider their cultural heritage. Since the workshop last April, two Smartphone videos have been produced in Hamburg, while two more still need some technical finishing. Each video was shot by an individual BA student; all female, aged 22-24 and based in Hamburg, who are in one way or other involved in CHIEF project. It is these first two videos made in this context in Hamburg that I want to write about.

Continue reading “Home, Heritage and Belonging”