Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

The Trap of Abstract Space: Recomposing Russian-Speaking Immigrants in Post-Soviet Estonia

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

The Trap of Abstract Space: Recomposing Russian-Speaking Immigrants in Post-Soviet Estonia

Article excerpt

Abstract

Focusing on the Estonian government's policy to integrate Soviet-era Russian-speaking immigrants, this article historically examines how public officials have come to constitute Estonian state space as a particular national place through the re-constitution of these immigrants in public policy. Drawing on Lefebvre's The Production of Space, the analysis describes place as a combined result of three types of space mobilized in social practice: spatial practices, representational spaces, and representations of space. Conceived through the third type, successful statecraft produces an abstract space that traps target populations through subject-making. The article's deeper project is two-fold. First, it aims to theorize the spatial interplay between deterritorialization and the state's efforts to reterritorialize the nation through citizenship and integration policy. Second, it aims to compensate for ethnographic tendencies that privilege data obtained through direct sensory experience to better capture how the deployment of spatial abstractions in public policy marginalize immigrants and minority groups. [Keywords: Space, subjectivity, state, policy, immigrants]

"Should we be content simply to introduce the idea of a 'plural,' 'polyscopic,' or 'polyvalent' space? No-our analysis needs to be taken further than that."

Henri Lefebvre ([1974] 1991:292-93)

Introduction

Through a historical study of the Estonian government's policy to integrate over 500,000 Soviet-era Russian-speaking immigrants, this article examines how state and international officials attempt to produce the state's territorial space as a particular national place through the re-constitution of these immigrants in public policy.1 Drawing on Lefebvre's The Production of Space, the analysis shows how the state interfaces with international migration (as a feature of globalization more generally) by describing the production of any moment in space-time as a dialectical result of three types of space mobilized in social practice: spatial practices, representational spaces, and representations of space. Statecraft is premised upon the third type, which, if converted into a successful policy project, yields an abstract space effected through the production of essentialized, ahistorical, undifferentiated subjects. The subject-in this case the Russian-speaker-might not internalize this abstraction, but the point is that the state places this individual in a position in which s/he must contend with it. Hence, the subject is trapped by abstract space.2 The article's deeper project is to use The Production of Space to expand the methodological approach to studying the interplay between globalization and the nation-state as a means to grasp contradictory processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. To do so, it argues that new methodological approaches to globalization still retain the limits of classical participant- observation by privileging ethnographic evidence obtained through the five senses. This legacy obscures the ways in which the state's representations of bounded, territorialized space-which are not amenable to participant-observation-function to regulate persons and processes that transgress cultural, state, and legal borders. The Production of Space provides a way out of this dilemma.

The article begins by reiterating how anthropological efforts to ethnographically study space and place in a globalized world developed as a corrective to the earlier epistemological fallacy of the spatial incarceration of the native (Appadurai 1988:37). While valuable in many ways, this intellectual trajectory does not expose fully enough how socially constructed representations of space-such as those underpinning state policy- contribute to the organization of deterritorialized flows (Burawoy et al. 2000:34-35, Chalfin 2006, Feldman 2005a, Friedman 2003, Navaro- Yashin 2003:120, Perry and Mauer 2003, Ong 1999). …

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