Enacting identities in the EU-Russia borderland: an ethnography of place and public monuments

Smith, D. and Burch, S. (2012) Enacting identities in the EU-Russia borderland: an ethnography of place and public monuments. East European Politics and Societies, 26(2), pp. 400-424. (doi: 10.1177/0888325411415403)

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Drawing on Rogers Brubaker’s theoretical analyses of “nationness” and nationalism in post-communist Europe, this article examines the dynamics of social identity within the nationally contested setting of the Estonian–Russian borderland. Since 1991, the city of Narva (96% Russophone by population) has customarily been defined (both politically and academically) in binary national terms as a “Russian enclave” within a unitary and “nationalizing” Estonian state. An ethnographic approach to the case, however, gives a rather different perspective, pointing to hybridity rather than nationality as the defining characteristic of identity politics within the city. In what follows, we bring to bear the results of extensive fieldwork carried out in Narva during 2006–2008. We first examine how different identity categories (local, national, meso-regional, and supranational) are being officially inscribed within Narva’s sites of memory. Thereafter, we focus on how these discursive-material articulations of place are implicated within the everyday performance of identity amongst the city’s population. Using the novel methodology of photo elicitation, we examine how residents of Narva appropriate but also subvert the identity categories that elites and outsiders (including ourselves as researchers) would seek to impose on them from above. This study (we argue) is significant for its methodological novelty, as well as in terms of giving a more nuanced understanding of Narva’s situation at a time of continued ethnopolitical contestation within Estonia as a whole.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Smith, Professor David
Authors: Smith, D., and Burch, S.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Central and East European Studies
Journal Name:East European Politics and Societies
ISSN (Online):1533-8371
Published Online:26 July 2011

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