Accepted paper:

Mobility and inequalities of creativity: defining belonging in post-Soviet Estonia


Elo-Hanna Seljamaa (University of Tartu)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on interviews and other fieldwork data, this paper looks at how various actors in post-Soviet Estonia regard rootedness as a precondition for creativity and respectability and how they use this idea to stigmatize Soviet-era newcomers as well as to deny them agency and social mobility.

Paper long abstract:

Thousands of people from all over the Soviet Union moved to Estonia during the Soviet era, many of whom decided to stay put when the country regained independence and formerly symbolic borders between union republics became rigid frontiers. The position and status of Soviet-era newcomers and their descendants in post-Soviet Estonia is an emotional issue of much controversy as well as a matter of realpolitik addressed by means of a national integration policy. The concept of culture plays a multifaceted role in these negotiations as various actors utilize it to articulate similarities and differences, inclusions, exclusions as well as conditions of in-betweenness.

While conducting fieldwork on ethnic interactions and integration in contemporary Estonia, I noticed how individuals of different ethnic background would talk about "roots" and "rootedness" as a precondition for the capability to appreciate "high culture" and to behave in a respectable manner. Drawing on interviews in particular, I discuss in this paper how rootedness is regarded as a prerequisite for the ability and authority to be creative - to interpret and produce new meanings - while those who allegedly have lost or are in danger of losing their roots are seen to suffer from bad taste and weak morals. I am particularly interested in how interviewees intertwine rootedness and creativeness to stigmatize certain kinds of mobility, to deny people described as rootless agency and to establish hierarchies of belonging.

panel P27
The inequalities of (im)mobility