Situating wetness in Soomaa, Estonia
(University of Cologne)
Paper short abstract:
This presentation analyses wetness in the Estonian Soomaa wetlands as a relational phenomenon, situated in the context of changing social, economic and cultural practices.
Paper long abstract:
Soomaa - literally "marsh-land" - is an Estonian national park, the area of which has long been known as a peripheral place due to its wetness. Soomaa has historically been a place for runaways, deserters, and coerced settlers. During the 1920s and 1930s, the area's flood meadows provided the basis for a dairy production heyday. Subsequently, the political and economic transformations of the Soviet Union involved the attempt to drain large parts of forests and bogs, as well as the consolidation of the population in a few dryer places. In the 1990s, the establishment of the park led to an initial surge in popularity for the area. Today, the tourism entrepreneurs in Soomaa market the destination particularly through its floods and bogs. This presentation reviews the narratives through which current Soomaa inhabitants relate the challenges and benefits of living in a wet environment. It traces how not only the different evaluations of wetness, but also the very understanding of what wetness is, are situated in specific social, political and economic contexts. In Soomaa, wetness is one thing to an ecologist working on bog restoration, another thing for a farmer trying to make ends meet, and yet another for a visionary newcomer building an artists' residence, or for a tourism entrepreneur marketing canoe trips through flooded forests. Wetness emerges as a relational phenomenon, situated in the context of changing social and cultural practices, and intimately caught up in people's activities, projects, ideals and embodied experiences.
Muddy footsteps and hydrosocial futures: understanding relationality with, through and about water