Our Yugoslavias: Daily Life in the SFRY

Blog #2–Navigating Between the First and Third

If you’ve read the various pages on this site, you’ll notice that my language/grammar  are not very consistent. I write both in the informal first and second person and the formal third person. Or in other words, I both speak directly to the reader and insert myself into the text using pronouns like “I, you, us, and our,” while also speaking from an outside perspective to talk about this project using terms like “people who lived in Yugoslavia” or “they.”

 

For some academics, this is a problem on two accounts. First, while it is increasingly common for scholars to write themselves into their work, there are still some who believe that a “scholarly distance” should be maintained in the pursuit of mythical “objectivity” (see Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream).  Second, and quite typical, are academics who would say that my use of first, second, and third person is inconsistent, and that this can make the project appear sloppy. While I can agree and disagree on both of these points, I can’t really comply with either of them. Neither fits the nature of my project or who I am as a person or a historian, and I firmly believe that to ethically and successfully carryout this project I have to embrace both. 

 

When I think about who this project is for and who/what it will effect, I recognize three important “groups” for lack of a better word. First and foremost are you, my narrators. This project doesn’t exist with out you and my responsibility to you and your stories is my top priority. This is why I use a lot of second person language on this site. You are my primary audience, and more often than not, I see myself speaking directly to you.

 

My second audience is the scholarly community; scholars of the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans, oral historians, digital humanists, and Modern Europeanists. While they have no personal stake in this project, they do have interest in its outcomes and its methodologies. Everyday stories about daily life collected through digital and oral history methods have the ability to reshape how scholars research, understand, and teach the History of socialist Yugoslavia. So when I write in the third person, scholars and scholarly frameworks often inform my thinking as I try to address the questions they might ask. 

Finally, I (Alexandra) am the link between my narrators and the scholarly community. While this project isn’t “for me” in the sense that it doesn’t collect my personal history, it does serve dual purpose in my life. It is a part of my larger journey to understand the Yugoslav past, which is also part of my own family’s history and is likewise a foundational part of my dissertation research. And because I chose community digital and oral history as research methods, there are ethical requirements I am personally and professionally bound by. I have to both be aware of and acknowledge how I as a person and my experience inform the shape this project takes so that I can be transparent with narrators, take special care in my cultivation and practice of ethics, and to analyze how my own positionality informs my methods and analysis. If this project and the actors it involves were placed into a diagram, I would be the element which connects narrators and the scholarly community, and my use of language and grammar reflects this. 

While each of these elements might be seen as separate with independent interests, because I am the intermediary that connects them and because I feel a deep personal and ethical obligation to narrators and simultaneously am a doctoral candidate researching and writing a dissertation, these groups become interrelated. My use of first, second, and third person language mirrors how I understand each of the groups involved in this project, and imitates my own inability and unwillingness to create rigid distinctions between them or disconnect myself from them.

 

While I do feel strongly about this choice, I am interested in what you think: is my use of first, second, and third person confusing? 

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