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Research project

Non-alignment and race in world history, literature and art

Project overview

Anglophone academic debates around race and racism are usually related to the Euro-Atlantic economic, political and cultural sphere. Critical literature on whiteness approaches it as a system of privilege generated by the violent histories of exporting capitalist modernity from western Europe to the colonised world. We are seeking funding for an interdisciplinary project which will complicate and nuance critical whiteness studies by investigating comparatively the project of non-imperial, non-western normative whiteness that emerged from socialist Yugoslavia during the cold war.

Between the 1960s and the 1990s, non-alignment was the official expression of Yugoslavia’s foreign policy. Pragmatic and financially oriented, it was marked by a Marxist utopianism and a political confidence generated by Tito’s military victory over fascism in south-central Europe. The armed struggle for political freedom came to occupy a central place in the Yugoslav political imaginary, as it did in much of the ‘third world’. Non-alignment insisted on all nations’ rights to political self-assertion: photographs from the era of decolonisation show a smiling Tito (often on the state ship Galeb – Seagull) with friendly black and brown (though mostly male) ‘third-world’ politicians. As Asian and African students entered Yugoslav universities, non-aligned solidarity was cast as the international version of the national policy of ‘brotherhood and unity’ in multi-ethnic federal Yugoslavia.

The project aims to organise a multi-disciplinary knowledge-exchange workshop in Rijeka, Croatia, provisionally titled ‘Non-alignment on the Move’. The workshop will bring together scholars and cultural practitioners ready to think comparatively about ways in which raced aspects of decolonisation and the cold war began to be de-realised by non-alignment. The core team of scholars will refer to the following inter-related archives, in order to begin to lay the foundations for future, more ambitious, events and funding applications.
• political publications from former Yugoslavia, which articulate Tito’s political programme (Prof Tvrtko Jakovina, University of Zagreb);
• government records held in UK, US, Canada and Africa, which establish how London sought to ward off non-aligned political rivalry (Dr Chris Prior, University of Southampton);
• the Mountbatten papers at the Hartley library in Southampton, which contain Jawaharlal Nehru’s papers (Dr Pritipuspa Mishra, University of Southampton);
• the British and Postcolonial literary canons, which problematise the emergence of decolonial whitenesses in the former empire (Prof. Stephen Morton, University of Southampton);
• canonical literatures from former Yugoslavia, which use non-aligned imaginaries in order to voice internal political critique (Dr Marina Protrka-Štimec, University of Zagreb);
• the literary canons from the Balkans and Africa, which both intersect and diverge in their representations of race, decolonisation and the cold war (Dr Ranka Primorac, University of Southampton); and
• The holdings of the City Museum of Rijeka, which include a key piece of Croatia’s national heritage – Tito’s ship Galeb, used to make political trips across the world (Jakovina and two additional invited Croatia-based participants – possibly the economist Paul Stubbs and the art historian Ljiljana Kolešnik).


Lead researcher

Doctor Ranka Primorac

Associate Prof of African Literature

Research interests

  • African literatures and cultures and World Literature
  • The novel: histories and theories

Connect with Ranka

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