Identities and identity politics along the eastern fringe of the European Union
Dept. of Sociology University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland
Borderlands are areas where local, religious, ethnic and national identities meet. This makes them ideal for studying the mundane forms of nation building. Our research explored how the neighbouring states' efforts at nation building with and at their borders concretely affect the everyday lives of women and men, young and old, who live in a peripheral area of the former Soviet Union where Estonia, Latvia and Russia meet. The research examined local residents' efforts to adapt to, support or oppose the workings of the respective states and their representatives in a situation where the recently enacted state borders are an important part of everyday life. The issues of border crossing, citizenship, and ethnic/national/local/religious identity were vividly present in local people's acts and conversations, and therefore we have used them in our analyses as clues to studying the local actors' relationship with their state, its neighbours, and Europe. The findings are based on intermittent long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the area in 2000-2006.
Ethnic and other identities can easily become sensitive, politicized and even explosive issues in a borderland context. Our research provides a methodological example of this: the paper deals with different kinds of outside involvement and interference in the research process and the challenges this poses to face-to-face research encounters around the eastern fringe of the European Union.