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Frontier geography: Fieldwork in the Soviet border zone

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Abstract:

The article provides insight into the ethics and politics of borders by examining a range of practices surrounding fieldwork at the Soviet frontier in Estonia in the 1960s and 1970s. The functioning of the Soviet border system is critically discussed in terms of the actors involved and the frame they acted in, including the procedures of gaining access to the border zone on the basis of in-depth interviews, field notes, and diaries. The Soviet border zone was more than a physical space; it was simultaneously a mentally negotiated place defined by a number of fluctuating paradoxes between freedom and control, propaganda and reality, certainty and unpredictability, secrecy and access at many levels, and discourses from the everyday to the academic and military. Examining geography and fieldwork at the Soviet rim is therefore not mere description of an often ridiculous but potentially dangerous exercise in control and secrecy but adds to the understanding of the ways that the borders are traversed both physically and mentally. The article also adds to the debate on fieldwork and the role of geography as a national science topical in many European countries in recent years.

Keywords: Estonia; Soviet border; and territory; control of people; fieldwork; movement

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00291951.2012.760000

Affiliations: Centre for Landscape and Culture, Estonian Institute of Humanities, Tallinn University, Uus-Sadama 5 EE10120, Tallinn, Estonia

Publication date: 2013-02-01

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