Against Balkanism: women’s academic life writing and personal and collective history in Vesna Goldsworthy’s Chernobyl Strawberries

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How does the life experience of an academic matter and how may it shape the ways in which scholarship is pursued? Starting from this question, the article offers a reading of the use of the discourse of Balkanism in Vesna Goldsworthy's recent memoir Chernobyl Strawberries by placing it in dialogue with her academic work Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination. Since the late 1990s several important studies have explored the construction of the Balkans in the Western imagination and Goldsworthy's work has been one of the key studies of the ways ‘the West looks East’. Through a close reading of Chernobyl Strawberries, I explore how the processes of identification and dis-identification with the Balkans are contingent upon the particular positioning of an academic, which to a large extent orients the scholarship in this or that direction, and how in Goldsworthy's case, it also affects self-representational practices used in her memoir. I argue that Goldsworthy's particular speaking position and material location is one of the critical factors that determine the development of her external critique of Balkanism. This complicated positioning that the dialectic of (un)belonging to the Balkans may entail is productively negotiated and mobilised in Goldsworthy's memoir for the purposes of critique—what is termed in this article as ‘against Balkanism’. Throughout the memoir, Goldsworthy actively engages with competing notions of personal and collective history, but rather than hunting down the big ghosts of post Yugoslav history, her memoir is underlined with a creative destabilisation of the workings of the Balkanist discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-188
Number of pages17
JournalWomen: A Cultural Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Balkanism
  • Chernobyl Strawberries
  • former Yugoslavia
  • memoir
  • Vesna Goldsworthy


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