From 1991 to 2001, people in the former Yugoslavia faced massive levels of violence that took place in various regions of the country. The breakdown of the federal state and the violence that accompanied it implied changes and rearrangements in economic, political, and familial arenas, as well as in everyday life. Dramatic social changes greatly impacted individual life trajectories, and their ramifications remain evident even twenty years after the most tragic events. The TRACES project was created to develop an original perspective on the way people and communities adopt social practices and redefine shared worldviews in order to cope with the aftermath of such violent conflict.
Hence, the starting point of the project was an aspiration to document and analyse how social representations and social practices are reshaped by collective violence in a context of ethnic discourse: what are the effects of violence on the lives of people and what are the effects of collectively experienced victimisation on societal norms, attitudes and collective beliefs? Throughout the project, we stressed that mass violence has a de-structuring and restructuring role for manifold psychosocial processes. A combined top-down and bottom-up approach draws our attention not only to the way most people in the former Yugoslavia had endured war and dramatic societal changes but also to how they often resisted and sometimes overcame ethnic rivalry, violence and subsequent segregation. It enables to go beyond perspectives that depict most Yugoslavians of the time as either blind followers of ethnic war leaders or as people intrinsically violent and motivated by deep-rooted intra-ethnic loyalties and inter-ethnic animosities.
These goals have become concretised throughout a collective effort to overcome some of the limitations in our ways of looking at ethnic violence in former Yugoslavia that stem from previous research. In 2006, we set out to establish a new data set that was meant to open untrodden avenues for social scientists to reconstitute collective experiences in former Yugoslavia and to give those experiences their own spatial and temporal coordinates. The Transition to Adulthood and Collective Experiences Survey (TRACES) project has resulted in a unique new dataset. It has two main components: first, life event calendar data collected from a representative sample of people across all of former Yugoslavia (N = 3975) and, second, extensive data on political attitudes and social worldviews from members of the 1968-1974 birth cohort (N= 2254), who entered adulthood during the main war period.
The theme of transition to adulthood in a post-war context is at the core of this research. This stage is crucial in the life of an individual, as it will have a long-standing impact on his/her direction and will influence the system of beliefs and values in relation to the person's community. At the same time, the project aims to describe the collective experiences that have affected populations in former Yugoslavia during the armed conflict decade, from 1991 to 2001, and questions the consequences of massive violations of the most fundamental rights in war-torn communities, in particular, society’s capacity to reorganise life around common principles of justice and to create legitimate institutions promoting the implementation of these principles.