Symposium A1: Encounters in the Field and the Archive

Organizer: Jyrki Pöysä.

Monday, August 22, Department of English and American Studies (Anglistik).

(Original symposium call.)


Andreas Kalkun: 

How to Ask Embarrassing Questions: Menstruating Mother of God, Ritual Impurity, and Fieldwork Among Seto Women 

The present-day Seto settlement area on the border of the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation is also situated on the border of Eastern and Western Christianity. Setos are known for their rich and unique Orthodox tradition, characterized by many divergent practices and unusual interpretations of Orthodox theology. The Orthodox Church rules concerning a woman’s body are not publicly discussed in the Orthodox communities of the Seto region. The ritual taboos of purity, restrictions on menstruating women, and rules of conduct for the postpartum period have been passed on in oral tradition. An old Orthodox custom has been given a local interpretation, in which the Mother of God plays a significant role.

Most collectors of Seto folklore have avoided issues related to sexuality and the female body as inappropriate and marginal topics. During my many field expeditions to Seto settlements, I strove to learn how contemporary Seto women interpret the Orthodox canons concerning woman’s ritual uncleanliness. My interviews with Seto women revealed that many topics, although not publicly discussed, continue to exist—one must only find a way to discuss these in a friendly and open manner. When asking questions about such taboo topics as menstruation and postpartum behavior, I have found myself time and again revising my position as folklorist, reflecting on the topic of fieldwork ethics, and analyzing what exactly happens in interactions between a researcher and his or her interlocutors. How should one combine research and close interpersonal communication? How can one maintain intimacy and trust when discussing embarrassing subjects?
While today it is common to emphasize the dialogical nature of fieldwork, interactions in the field are usually subject to a hidden hierarchy. Encounters are planned and organized so that informants do not necessarily realize why certain topics are discussed during an interview, or why they are entering into intimate communication. Over the course of my fieldwork I have noted that subjects related to taboos seem to be capable of exposing hidden aspects of researcher-informant interaction such as hierarchies, power relations, and prejudices.


Saarni Laitinen:

Sociolinguistic fieldwork on Kihnu island

Kihnu is a small Estonian island with approximately 600 inhabitants. The local dialect differs substantially from Standard Estonian, and as a matter of fact, the speakers themselves most often call it a language instead of a dialect. The characteristic language variety of the island, as well as its unique culture, has attracted researchers both from mainland Estonia and abroad, and fieldwork has been conducted there during several decades. Most of the linguistic fieldwork has been done in order to collect dialectological material. This presentation, however, focuses on sociolinguistic fieldwork conducted on the island by the author in 2009 in order to collect material for their master’s thesis. Despite the popularity of the language variety spoken in Kihnu as a research object, no previous sociolinguistic research had been done on the island, which was one of the reasons to write the master’s thesis in question. The presentation is based on the author’s own field data and experiences. The author used a questionnaire that had previously been used in other areas of Estonia (see Eichenbaum & Koreinik 2008) as a basis for semi-structured interviews. The special characteristics of Kihnu compared with these other areas had to be taken into account, and the questionnaire was modified before taking the ferry to the island. This kind of preliminary work will be discussed in the presentation, as well as questions that arise in the field. When it comes to Kihnu, one of such questions is how the interaction between the researcher and the informants is affected by the relatively large amount of researchers on a relatively small island.

Eichenbaum, Külli & Kadri Koreinik (eds) 2008: Kuis eläs mulgi, saarõ ja võro kiil? Kohakeelte seisundiuuring Mulgimaal, Saaremaal ja Võrumaal. Võro Instituudi toimõndusõq 21. Võro: Võro Instituut’.


Karina Lukin:

Gentlemanly arrogant? Informants in the eyes of Castrén and Lehtisalo or the other way around

Toivo Lehtisalo (1887-1962) can be named as a successor of M. A. Castrén (1813-1852) in doing linguistic fieldwork, describing the language and folklore and everyday life of the Nenets. They both travelled extensively in northern Russian and west Siberian areas and wrote descriptions about their travel and work in the form of a travelogue. These include scarce, but telltale details and lines about their relationship and stance towards the indigenous informants. However, the travelogues are, naturally, written from the point of view of the researcher who can retrospectively interpreted as not being able or willing to read the situations from any other perspective than his own. This paper aims at reading the researchers’ descriptions of the fieldwork contexts anew, highlighting the point of view of the informants, and not those of the researcher, who then had the authority to describe the context. I will focus on both M. A. Castrén’s and Toivo Lehtisalo’s descriptions of their encounters with their Nenets informants. The encounters will be read as meetings between two differing linguistic ideologies, encounters which have had a considerable influence on the conduct of both parties and the interpretations they have made regarding the communicative situation.


Jyrki Pöysä:

A.J. Sjögren (1794-1855) as an early Finno-Ugric fieldworker

In my paper I am dealing with the evolving practices of Finno-Ugric fieldwork from the point of view of early ethnographic and folkloristic studies. In Finland collecting folksongs was partly inspired by Johann Gottfried von Herder's (1744-1803) ideas about language, nation and folklore and realized in Elias Lönnrot's long field trips organized for documenting Kalevala metric songs for the Kalevala (1835). Already in the beginning of the 19th century within European academic circles devoted to historical and linguistic studies the importance or field work was realized as part of studying the linguistic groups not belonging to the ”Indo-German” group of languages. At the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg the task was seen as specially suitable for someone knowing the Finnish language. After a multiphase selection process Ander Johan Sjögren (1794-1855) was chosen as the proper person to carry out the task. His first field trip lasted 5 years starting in 1824 and ending at 1829 (See: Branch 1973).In my paper I am studying the practices of A.J. Sjögren's fieldwork, how they are described in his extraordinarily extensive diaries (Ephemerider), letters (partly published already during his long fieldtrip), posthumously published autobiography (1955) and the produced documents from the field. Collecting historical documents (manuscripts from the monasteries etc.) should also be seen as an important part of Sjögren's field trips and the interest of knowledge (and politics of knowledge) behind them. To know about the background of Sjögren's field parctices is also important, because he was the one, who guided the next generation of field workers, among them Matthias A. Castrén (1813-1852), famous founder of the Finnish Studies at the University of Helsinki.




Tiina Seppä:

Complicated Encounters in the Kinship War. Case: Samuli Paulaharju 

The presentation exams the folklore collectors and scholars in the Kinship Wars in Karelia 1918-1922. The Greater Finland-ideology was popular among writers, scholars and folklore collectors in Finland in the beginning of 20thcentury – in order to unify the Finno-Ugric peoples together: geographically and politically to Finland, which just recently had become independent. Many Finnish writers, academics and folklore collectors took part in Kinship Wars, among them an established folklore collector, writer and a school teacher Samuli Paulaharju. Recently, I have been close-reading Paulaharju’s war correspondence in 1918 (Seppä 2018). Letters sent from the front (Salla, Kuusamo) to his family members and friends are full of violence: descriptions of executions and wishes to kill (the Reds).
Ideas of “us” and “them” reveal themselves as incoherent and coincidental. In practice, the war in the White Sea Karelia was a continuation to the civil war in Finland. The Whites were fighting the Red Guard, which was mostly put together of men who had escaped from the (White Guard) requisitions to Soviet Russia, and joined to the ”Murmansk Legion”(or Finnish Legion) under the British Royal Navy. Hence, the hated, even racialized others on the opposite side were actually mostly Finnish workers, as in the civil war. The racialized discourse is noted during the Finnish civil war: In propagandist discourse the Finnish Reds embodied the unwanted racial features of Finns, unlike the Whites (Hentilä 2018).
At the same time, the presenters of the National Sciences were supporting the kinship ideology and producing and constructing information, material and research of kin peoples. This composition is extremely inconsistent and complicated in order to see the Finno-Ugric minorities through the research done in this frame and context.


Elina Niiranen:


The language as an indicator for understanding Karelians Finnish linguist Pertti Virtaranta ́s fieldwork as an indicator for the difficult position of Karelian language in Soviet Karelia and the negotiation for Karelian identity

In my paper I’m dealing with the Finnish linguist Pertti Virtaranta’s fieldwork among Karelians in Soviet Karelia during the 1960s and 1970s. Virtaranta made several trips to Soviet Karelia in order to collect dialect material.

In this paper, I will treat interviews as communication situations in which Karelian identity was negotiated. I’m interested in Virtaranta’s attitudes towards the Karelian language. In those days, the position of Karelian in everyday life was problematic: its public use was forbidden. Virtaranta and his informants used Karelian in their interviews, but they seldom talk about the position of Karelian. What kind of preconceptions did Virtaranta have towards Karelian and its position in the Karelians’ everyday life? Why was it not possible for Virtaranta to ask questions about the situation of the Karelian minority in Soviet Karelia in those days? What kind of negotiations were going on concerning the Karelian language and its position in Soviet Karelia in the 1960s and 1970s?

Virtaranta had learned Karelian before he started his fieldwork in the Soviet Union. His first informants had been pre-war Karelian emigrants in Sweden. The language he used in his interviews in Soviet Karelia was fairly old-fashioned. How were these different backgrounds reflected in the communication situations? There was a considerable variation in spoken Karelian, both in Virtaranta’s and his informants’ speech. Virtaranta paid a close attention to the authenticity and purity of his informants’ language. How does his fieldwork reflect his ideals of language?

The paper is connected to an Academy of Finland funded project Russia as Field and Archive at the University of Eastern Finland.
PhD Elina Niiranen is a post doctoral researcher at the department of Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland. She has studied Karelian folksongs and oral histories and conducted fieldwork in Russian Karelia and Tanzania. Her studies are based on fieldwork among the Karelians and on archival materials collected during the 20th and 21th centuries. Lately, Niiranen has focused on questions of identity and representations of Karelian culture in folksongs and narratives and fieldwok made by linguists Pertti and Helmi Virtaranta.