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Inventing Knowledge – Blog

Francesco Trupia, PhD
Under the Shadow of the (Oriental) Posts: Semi/Peripheral Epistemologies and Minority Identities from Bulgaria

For the latest quarter of the century, the post/decolonial scholarship has signalled and dominated the intellectual landscape and its surroundings. In attempting to shed light on the political, epistemological and historical identities and knowledge from Bulgaria’s semi-peripheral contexts, I will look at the nexus of post-colonial, post-socialist and post-mnemonic epistemologies through the philosophical category of the post. The latter will serve to explore the contrasting yet equally powerful projections and consequences of power rather than different locations [1] and the related issue of spatialisation. Hence, I will focus on the interconnections as well as contrasts and dissonances of Bulgaria’s state identity in relation to its Oriental long shadows. Unravelling ongoing cultural policies of space [2] as an emanation of a colonial-type matrix of power [3], my argumentation will be threefold.

First, I look at the period between the post-1878 and on the eve of World War I in order to discuss how the two seemingly divisive terms – namely, l’Europe Orientale (Eastern Europe) and l’Orient Européen (European Orient), began to project a long orientalising shadow on post-Ottoman Bulgaria. Challenging the assumption presenting geography as an emanation of history [4], I will converse such duality in Bulgaria’s post-colonial/post-Ottoman trajectory. Indeed, geography had become was the instrument for producing historical knowledge about Bulgaria, from terra incognita to a collective image of nationhood [5]. Relatedly, Bulgarian (literary) intelligentsia had given some geographical lessons, such as Hristo Botev’s poem “Haidouks” and Ivan Vazov’s “Where is Bulgaria?” Thanks to this interconnection between the fields of geography and literature, I will show how the Oriental was rejected up until the Communist takeover.

Second, I will deal again with Communism in Bulgaria. As bureaucratization and centralisation came to control school, universities, unions of writers and journalists along with their public houses and counter-publics in Communist Bulgaria, many were systematically silenced. Among others, those accusing the “Great Bulgarian tradition” and its classic literary heritage of being affected by “oriental symptoms” typical of declining bourgeois society [6] were discarded. However, Todor Zhivkov stated that the backbone of the Bulgarian literature is a political one [7], thereby giving credits to Petko Slaveikov and Liuben Karavelov arguing about the post-1878 knowledge was a resource of power with a view on the moral and national interests of the Bulgarian nation. Since the early 1950s, Communist cultural policies introduced the fundamental dogma of the ideological concept of a unitary Bulgarian socialist nation. Such a dogmatic position penetrated all education places and even credited by some scholars and activists of Turkish ethnic origin, whose peripheral identities and cultures in Communist Bulgaria were patronised by a hegemonic representation of such ‘scientific details’ at the academic and personal level [8]. I will here discuss how ethnic and historical factors were rotated and warped to fit a framework Communist officials could refer to, while interpenetration of power and knowledge came to constitute the very fabric of colonising attitudes toward ethnic and religious minorities. All of these yielded the foundation of the largest ethnic cleansing campaign that Europe had seen since the end of World War II – namely, the ‘Revival Process’.

Third, I will address the issue of associating the post with Communism or Socialism and knowingly overcome the scholarly dispute over the almost interchangeable in scholarly writings [8]. Focussing on the generation of post-memory, I will deal with the issues of post-memory regarding the ‘Revival Process’ and delve into Bulgaria’s unfinished (still lasting) past, discussing the variety of meanings and everyday attitudes toward cultural memories, rituals, symbols, monuments, tombstones, street names and the like [9] associated with “communism” and “communists” of the “generations after” and its social backgrounds. I will entirely draw on Marianne Hirsh’s post-memory as a lens through which to explore identity dilemmas and performativity of young Turks whose grandparents and parents had heavily targeted by name-changing campaigns and 1989 expulsion. Shifting the perspective from the colonizers to the colonised, as well as from the centre of colonial power to the colonised peripheries, a continuous line conjures up lasting trajectories of Communist power from the past to the present, and vice versa. On Europe’s doorstep, the aforementioned posts unveil how rigidly constructed ‘European (national) identities’ are. Yet again, Bulgaria’s semi/peripheral epistemologies and identities will be used to discuss the cultural fatigue of the ‘Europeanising project’ eastward. In particular, I will here argue that Islamic knowledge and identities were separated from Europe’s canon and how the latter differed local history and heritage of European Muslims even from the rest of the Muslim world [10]. Among others, I will discuss the case of how European memory discourse has utterly failed to include the ethnic cleansings of ethnic Turks and Muslims in Communist Bulgaria [11] after 1989, overviewing (colonising) hierarchic mechanisms of doing politics across Bulgaria’s troubling continuities and temporalities [12].


  1. Quijano, Anibal. Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America, Nepantla: Views from South 1(3): 2000: 533-580.
  2. King, D. Anthony. Spaces of Global Cultures. Architecture, Urbanism, Identity. New York: Routledge. 2004.
  3. Walter D. Mignolo, D. Walter, Walsh, E. Catherine. On Decoloniality. Concepts, Analytics, Praxis, Duke University Press. 2018.
  4. Appadurai, Arjun. The Future of Postcolonial Thought. The Nation, accessible at
  5. Lilova, Dessislava. Homeland as Terra Incognita. Geography and Bulgarian National Identity, 1830-1870s. In: Snyde, Timothy, Younger, Katherine (eds.) The Balkans as Europe, 1821-1914. Boydell & Brewer, 2018:32-53.
  6. Kiossev, Aleksander. The Textbooks of Literary History and the Construction of National Identity. In: History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Century. Making and Remaking Of Literary Institutions. John Benjamins Publishing Company (22nd Edition) 2004.
  7. Hranova, Albena. “Loan Memory”: Memory and the Youngest Generation. In: Todorova, Maria (ed.) Remembering Communism. Private and Public Recollections of Lived Experiences in Southeast Europe. Central European University Press, 2014: 233-251.
  8. Kamusella, Tomasz. Ethnic Cleansing during the Cold War. The Forgotten 1989 Expulsion of Turks from Communist Bulgaria, New York: Routledge. 2019.
  9. Bailyn J. Frederick, Jelača, Dijana, Lugarić, Danijela (eds.) The Future of (Post)Socialism: Eastern European Perspectives. State University of New York Press. 2018.
  10. Tocheva, Detelina. Vernacular Entanglements: Islam and Communism in a Bulgarian Village. Balkanologie Revue d’études pluridisciplinaires, (15) 2, 2020.
  11. Rexhepi, Pino. Unmapping Islam in Eastern Europe: Periodization and Muslim Subjectivities in the Balkans, in: I. Kacandes and Y. Komska (eds.), “Eastern Europe Unmapped: Beyond Borders and Peripheries”, New York: Berghahn, 2018:53-78.
  12. Kamusella 2019, Ibidem. Sierp, Aline. History, Memory, and Trans-European Identity. Unifying Divisions. New Yourk: Routledge. 2014.
  13. Hirsch, Marianne. The Generation of Postmemory. Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. New York. Columbia University Press, 2012.

Svetlana Shnaider, PhD
Initial human colonization of the Roof of the World (Pamir Mountains)

The Pamir mountains is the highest and one of the most challenging environments inhabited by humans because of their perennial cold temperatures, low biomass productivity, and the dangers of hypoxia. As one of the last terrestrial environments occupied by humans, the timing and mechanisms of its colonization are of great interest. The early occupation of highlands is one of the most debated and relevant topics in modern archaeology. Thus, in Tibet, the earliest evidence of the appearance of man is associated with Denisovan, indisputable evidence of the presence of Denisovan is noted about 160 kaBP. at an altitude of 3280 m a.s.l. (Chen et al. 2019). The stone industry of Nyava Devu (altitude 4600 m a.s.l.), which is most likely associated also with the Denisovan, is dated about 40–30 kaBP (Zhang et al. 2018). The spread of modern humans dates about 20 ka BP (Brantingham et al., 2007), however, this study has been criticized several times and is currently not recognized by all experts (Meyer et al., 2017). The most reasoned evidence of human habitation in Tibet was recorded on the Chusang site and dates about 12.6 kaBP. (Ibid.). Given the geographical proximity of the Pamir mountains to the Tibetan Plateau, this research can fill in the territorial and chronological gaps and provide new data on the migration ways of ancient populations.

An intense archaeological study of Central Asian highlands was provided in 1950–1970, according to the results of the work this territory was occupied from Early Holocene (around 10 kaBP) (Ranov, 1988; Ranov, Khudjageldiev, 2005). Re-study of materials from Soviet excavations and new absolute dates allowed us to tell that the region was occupied earlier (around 13 kaBP) (Shnaider et al., 2020). In connection within the frame of join, the Russian-Tajik expedition was renew the field study of multilayer archaeological site Istikskaya cave. During this work large archaeological collection was obtained, including also unique artefacts, such as bone needles and bone decorations. The preliminary correlation study of the lithic industry shows the similarities with materials from neighbouring territories (Fergana, Markansu and Alay valleys). The continued field study of the cave will be allowed us to provide the construction of ancient human migrations into highland Central Asian territories and their chronology. And also to trace the relation between changing of climate, landscape and ancient human economic systems from the early occupation of high lands almost till present time.



Prof. dr hab. Maria Lewicka
Miejskie my vs. oni: symetrie i asymetrie we wzajemnej ocenie miast

Mieszkańcy miast mają swoje zdanie na temat miasta, w którym mieszkają, ale mają też zdanie na temat innych miast, w tym miast sąsiednich o podobnym statusie (wielkości, znaczeniu w regionie, nieodległych geograficznie). Takie porównania mogą brać pod uwagę różne kryteria. W serii badań sprawdzaliśmy, na ile prawidłowości znane z porównań międzygrupowych (tendencja do faworyzowania własnej grupy kosztem grupy obcej) mają również zastosowanie do procesów kategoryzacji miast.  Sprawdzaliśmy, czy (1) mieszkańcy miast mają tendencję do faworyzowania swojego miasta kosztem miasta będącego przedmiotem porównań (np. miasta sąsiedniego); (2) czy tendencja ta dotyczy dowolnych kryteriów porównań, czy też można wyróżnić takie kryteria oceny/opisu miast, które w mniejszym, niż inne, stopniu poddają się procesom subiektywnych zniekształceń. To ostatnie oznacza, że w zakresie pewnych kryteriów miasta mogą być oceniane podobnie zarówno przez własnych mieszkańców jak i mieszkańców innych miast, podczas gdy oceny na innych kryteriach będą zależeć od czynników subiektywnych.

Badaniom poddano oceny mieszkańców czterech par miast: Torunia (n=215) oraz Bydgoszczy (n=231), Warszawy (n=365) oraz Krakowa (N= 328), Gdańska (N=223) oraz Gdyni (N= 209), Rzeszowa (N=228) oraz Przemyśla (N=133). Mieszkańcy oceniali swoje miasto oraz miasto sąsiednie na kilkudziesięciu wymiarach konstytuujących główną oś sporu o to, co stanowi o tym, że jakaś lokalizacja staje się lokalizacją znaczącą (miejscem). Wyróżniono zbiór wymiarów definicyjnych dla konserwatywnej teorii miejsca (historia, stabilność, homogeniczność, wyodrębnienie i in.) oraz zbiór wymiarów definicyjnych dla progresywnej teorii miejsca (otwartość, dynamika, zmienność, różnorodność i in.). Miasta były też oceniane pod kątem wywoływanych emocji. Zbierano też swobodne wypowiedzi na temat własnego i porównywanego miasta.

Wykazano wyraźny efekt faworyzacji swojego własnego miasta, we wszystkich miastach ich mieszkańcy oceniali swoje miasto wyżej niż miasto sąsiednie. Zaobserwowano jednak szereg interesujących asymetrii we wzajemnych ocenach zależnych od treści kryteriów porównań. Szczegółowo odniosę się do nich w referacie podczas seminarium Zespołu PSE.


Michael Pleyer, PhD
The Evolution and Foundations of the Interaction-, Language, and Construction-Ready Brain

I would like to discuss the evolution and foundations of a brain that is able to support human forms of interaction, language, and linguistic constructions. These questions are central to the science of language evolution (Żywiczyński & Wacewicz 2019), which tries to uncover the evolutionary foundations of our ability to learn and use language. In addition, the science of language evolution also tries to uncover the processes and mechanism that shaped the emergence and development of language in human evolution and human history. In other words, language evolution research is interested in the evolutionary foundations and development of the “language-ready brain,” (Arbib 2012) that is a brain ready to support the emergence of language, as well as language use, language acquisition, and language change.

Much recent work in language evolution has also directed attention to the fact that language is at its core a social, interactive phenomenon. Indeed, social cognitive abilities such as joint attention and perspective-taking seem to represent some of the most central foundations of language. This is why language evolution researchers have become increasingly interested in the evolution of the ‘human interaction engine’ (Levinson 2006), in other words, they are not only interested in the evolution and structure of the “language-ready brain”, but also in the evolution of the “interaction-ready brain”, which supports human forms of social interaction and meaning-making. Along with this goes an interest in the “language-ready social settings” (Pleyer & Lindner 2014), that is the social environment that supports the emergence of linguistic structure in interaction (Pleyer 2017).

Language evolution research is a fundamentally interdisciplinary endeavour, drawing on research from a multitude of fields, including, for example, cognitive sciences such as linguistics, psychology, neuroscience and anthropology, as well as primatology, biology, computational modelling and many others. It, therefore, requires a multifaceted, pluralistic approach. In addition, research from within these fields can also be done within a multitude of frameworks, all of which are relevant to the science of language evolution (Wacewicz et al. in the press, Hartmann et al., accepted).

One such approach whose implications for language evolution is being increasingly explored is the linguistic approach of usage-based construction grammar (Pleyer 2017, Pleyer & Hartmann 2020; Hartmann & Pleyer, in press).

This approach is founded on two main theoretical assumptions about language. First, the constructionist assumption: Knowing a language means having internalised a complex, structured network of constructions (Goldberg 2003; Diessel 2019). Constructions are defined as form-meaning pairings of different degrees of complexity and schematicity. This means that they can range from simple and concrete constructions (dog, avocado) over simple and abstract constructions (freedom, justice) and simple schematic constructions (e.g. syntactic categories such as NOUN and VERB) to complex schematic constructions (e.g. the ditransitive transfer construction [DITR  NP V NP NP], as in he gave her a cake) (Stefanowitsch & Flach 2017)  What this means for language evolution research is that from a constructionist perspective, we are interested in a) the evolution of our capacity to represent form-meaning pairings/constructions in terms of an interconnected network in long-term memory b) the components and evolutionary foundations of this ability.

The second foundational assumption is the usage-based assumption: Constructions are abstractions from actual usage events in interaction (Barlow & Kemmer 2000). For example, children learn constructions by using abilities such as frequency-sensitive pattern extraction and schematisation on the input they receive (Tomasello 2003). In addition, constructions emerge in interaction as we co-create and negotiate meaning together, finding ways to express and share perspectives on entities, situations and events. From a language evolution perspective, this directs attention to the evolution of a) cognitive abilities that enable us to learn and create constructions, and b) the processes and mechanisms that lead to the emergence of constructions in interaction. That is, a usage-based, constructionist asks what it is that makes the human brain “construction-ready.” (Hartmann & Pleyer, in press).