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Tradition and Modernity in Europe

By oflindentrees Oct 27, 2008 1212 Words
Tradition and Modernity in Europe

Europeans are well known for their firm traditions and their unwillingness to shift from old to new world ideals and changes. As the decades go by, Europeans are being bombarded with new world industry and new traditions. In 1976, through Susannah Hoffman’s documentary entitled “Kypseli: Women and Men Apart-A Divided Reality”, we are provided with the ultimate in European, namely Greek/Kypselian traditions. Hoffman shows the old world way of life when men and women lived off the land, made homemade meals by hand each day, and lived a life separate from the world and all its technological advances. But as time and the world progress, such cultures are being forced or led into new ways of living, doing, and thinking about everyday life. With each year comes a greater descent into modernization where European societies are converging toward modern values and gradually abandoning their traditional values.

The respective place and definitions of modernity and tradition are frequent themes in contemporary European life. Perhaps Europe could be defined by the very modernity of its traditions. Europeans are continually being bombarded with new world, new age, industrial views and changes that are forcing their staunch, old world traditions into disarray, and thus modernity. Though they can not fully stop the inevitable, people are using local culture to respond to the national and/or global forces for change. Diana Barthel-Bouchier and Lauretta Clough discuss such acts in their article “From Mondavi to Depardieu: The Global/Local Politics of Wine”. In it, they focus on the subject of local winemakers in France experiencing a great change in the wine industry. Per tradition, these winemakers have been the sole source of wine for their culture for many years, but with the growth of industry and capitalism, “and an increasing number of newcomers…who have migrated south in search of sun and a gentler lifestyle.” (75), their local, long-standing traditions are being challenged by modern globalizations. These French, more specifically Languedociens, fought to keep the corporate faces who had inclinations toward setting up in small-town France and teaching long-time winemakers how to make better wine. “The actors involved….became symbols in a struggle between little guys and big guys, people attached to the terroir versus people concerned only with profit, small family businesses versus global corporations” (85). Yet, Barthel-Bouchier and Clough go on to say that even the locals who seem so set in their local traditions are moving toward modernity in the fact that they indeed are becoming more global in their own wine selling practices. They say that:

…many of the locals are also global and eager to profit from the sophisticated
marketing and production techniques without losing respect for the tradition and
terroir. But global corporations also claim to be interested in tradition and terroir,
in “letting the land speak.” (85)
Through this example, we can see how tradition is losing its traditionalism and gaining a sort of modernity in response to national and global changes. Still, some Europeans are able to keep some semblance of tradition while striving to keep up with the western world and its modern advances.

Some may argue that modernization will always lead to greater uniformity and to the loss of local specificity; but, I believe that it can sometimes contribute to the reinforcement and reinvigoration of local practices and ideas. Entering into a more modern world for old world Europeans will not mean death to their traditions, and it will not result in a sort of Utopian, Brave New World-like society in which everyone will be forced to live and breath and do the same way as everyone else. Sometimes, being thrown into new practices and immense changes will be a factor in people, young and old, to try preserving some traditions and/or traditional values or things for future generations. It is certainly important for present and future Europeans to understand and embrace so many unique traditions. Alison Leitch focuses on such a topic in her article entitled “Slow Food and the Politics of Pork Fat: Italian Food and European Identity”. Leitch’s studies in Carrara, Italy show the changes that occurred over the course of a ten year period. When Leitch first visited Carrara, it was the epitome of old Italy, teeming with old world European and Italian traditions and lifestyles. Upon her return in 1998, she is confronted with “…an explicitly modern European frontier” (437) complete with its very own McDonald’s. Because of such global forces of change invading this central Italian city, Leitch learned that “…pork fat, locally known as lardo di Colonnata, had apparently been nominated as the key example of a nationally ‘endangered food’ by an organization called Slow Food” (438). At a time when the European Union is bringing modernity to all of Europe, Carrara is making a stand with their Slow Food movement to bring local practices to their modern world. In short, because of Leitch’s claim that “…food and identity are becoming like the ‘Euro,’ a single common discursive currency through which to debate Europeaness and the implications of economic globalization at the beginning of the twenty-first century” (442), it was the people of Carrara to bring a sort of reinvigoration of local traditions to maintain a sense of self and community.

In contrast to the citizens of Carrara, the people of Kalymnos in Greece, as talked about in David E. Sutton’s ethnography Remembrance of Repasts, seem to accept European modernization despite the “…changes in a particular food or agricultural practice…” (54), despite the fact that before modernization of food “…prior to chemical processing” food “tasted better”(54). Though the Kalymnians are embracing modernization and global changes, they are well-able to see the changes from tradition to modernity.

Tradition is a central figure in defining what it means to be a European today. As evident in France, Italy, and Greece, modern ideals and changes are forcing their way across old world European cultures and traditions. It is impossible for any European to stop these changes, but it is through the onset of modernity that Europeans are embracing what used to be. They are bringing back old ways through the use of new ones and remembering the “good old days” of European traditions that date back for centuries. It is important for Europeans to remember their traditions rather than turning their backs on them and fully embracing modernity because without said traditions, Europeans and the country as a whole would lose much of its identity. It is this European identity that keeps people returning every year from all over the world to spend time in beautiful, traditional Europe and their modernized traditions being embraced by new Europeans each day.

References Cited

Barthel-Bouchier, Diane and Lauretta Clough. 2005. From Mondavi to Depardieu: The Global/Local Politics of Wine. French Politics, Culture & Society. 23(2):71-90.

Kyseli: Women and Men Apart—A Divided Reality. Directed by Susannah Hoffman. University Park, PA: Penn State Media Sales, 1973.

Leitch, Alison. 2003. Slow Food and the Politics of Pork Fat: Italian Food and European Identity. Ethnos. 68(4):437-462.

Sutton, David. 2001. Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory. Oxford: Berg.

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