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A Thorn in the Eye: Bosnian Mixed-Ethnicity Families in a Polarized Land


This dissertation draws on extensive field experience in Sarajevo between 2002-2012 to provide an intimate account of how individuals from mixed families in Bosnia today manage their sense of self and their kin relationships in the face of pressures to align themselves with a single ethno-national category. Such families, which were associated with the socialist rhetoric of "brotherhood and unity" during the Yugoslav period, came under severe pressure during the war, as the populations of entire towns fled "ethnic cleansing" and sought safety in territories controlled by their own people. Mixed families and persons continue to represent "a thorn in the eye" that troubles nationalism, unsettling national categories and insistently recalling histories of interconnection that bind the peoples of the Balkans despite war and the ravages of communal hatred.

This work traces the repercussions of mixing, the challenging experiments with ethno-religious affiliation that face not only the marriage partners, but move through extended kin networks and profoundly influence the lives of children born into the family. Using audio and video recordings made over 12 months in 2011-2012 among 11 families in Sarajevo, the dissertation focuses on everyday family interactions--routines and conversations located in households--as a way of gaining insight into the micro-processes through which persons and identities are constituted as kin relations are enacted. It shows how particular metaphors of kinship are employed to naturalize nationalist xenophobia, and how mixed marriages challenge these claims. Emphasizing everyday ethical responses to violence, or the ways ordinary people participate in struggles to define and transform social reality, the dissertation underscores the importance--and the difficulties--of creating meaningful relationships with real individuals who represent "otherness," recognizing them as multi-dimensional human beings rather than caricatures.

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