Thursday, June 13, 2013

The "Basin" through the Barzakh Lens: Networks in the Mediterranean

by Natalie Cartwright

It is large enough to separate radically different cultures and political systems, and yet small enough to connect them all. It provides its “citizens” the dazzling array of cultural possibilities from three continents. It is both land and sea and it is the space of many historically significant moments. It is comprised of liquid continents and inland sea. It is the Mediterranean, and just saying that immediately invokes stereotypes, some true some false into one’s mind. miriam cooke, a scholar of Mediterranean Studies, ventures into the depths of the Mediterranean by examining medizens. To be medizen is to understand oneself as a citizen at the crossroads of three continents and the development of their life as it is “both facilitated and constrained by their location as aquacentric beings in a domain of fluidity and movement” (cooke). In lesser terms, it is a classification of the Mediterranean citizen, but being a citizen of a Mediterranean nation does not immediately gain one medizen status.

While it is small enough to connect 21 different countries and their respective cultures, it stays above the incommunicable threshold. There exists a Barzakh – a barrier of separation. It is through this lens of Barzakh that cooke explores the networks that are interwoven across, in, and throughout the Mediterranean. Through this Barzakh lens, the survival of local cultures is witnessed. The Mediterranean is usually divided when studied with scholars focusing on the enlightened north and how it compares or contrasts to the superstitious south. Landing on any of the shores enclosing the Mediterranean leaves one nothing short of a rich experience. This richness has been built up through networks. The Mediterranean is one of the must successful and longstanding networks, used by many within comparative studies. It may be due to the Mediterranean being the combination of both places and spaces as argued by cooke that it has supported strong networks. Or, since the Mediterranean is a space enclosed by land, with its waters putting the concept of boundaries in crisis since clear definitions are more difficult to construct. These boundaries are like the Barzakh – existing barriers but invisible, allowing for local cultures on different, but close in proximity shores, to survive.

Networks can be expansive across the Mediterranean (and furthermore across the globe as cooke highlights Mediterranean connections across the Atlantic to the US). Not being confined by boundaries allows for this expansiveness. Throughout history the Mediterranean was a network for traders, migrants, and businesses. Hundreds of years later and the Mediterranean is still providing these networks with success, they are just studied under a different light and maybe showcasing more differences between the Mediterranean Nations than ever before. The idea of “the Berlin Wall had not fallen, it had merely been moved to the middle of the Mediterranean, putting more strains on the already existing splits (the more modern, rich European North from the southern coast of African, homogenous poor countries) certainly highlights how while networks have been a positive force in the Mediterranean, they have also brought out negativity. Where the Mediterranean and all of its intricacies will lead in the future is history still waiting to happen, but one thing is for certain, Mediterranean Studies will continue to only get richer in scope.

Natalie Cartwright is a second-year MA student in European Union Studies. She received her Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2011. Her interests include migration flows, environmental sustainability, Italian and Turkish. Natalie has spent the summer studying Turkish language at Ankara University TÖMER and will spend the fall 2012 semester studying at Bogazici University in Istanbul, in both cases with support from EU Center Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships.  

Photo credits: 
Photo #1: Wikimedia Commons
Photo #2: Natalie Cartwright

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