During my anthropological fieldwork in Estonia in 1996–97 I approached various folkloristic traditions and practices at several occasions. My meeting with folklorists and their practices can be described as a ‘clash’ between academic disciplines. As an anthropology student I obviously reacted to how folklorists related to their research material. It is probably often so when people from different disciplines meet, that disagreements will arise about how research is done and fieldwork material is interpreted. Somehow we have to accept these differences, but sometimes it is also inspiring to get to know what people from other disciplines think about your own discipline. I want to give an account of folkloristic practices as seen through the eyes of an anthropologist. And it is related to a particular time and place: Estonia in the 1990ties at the time of my fieldwork. I guess, and I know, that changes have occurred since then, but I still hope that these reflections can be of interest.
The glance at the classical anthropological perspectives implies that the concept of ‘region’ was often tied to the environment and used mainly as a comparison unit and there were fewer intentions to try to discover the internal aspects of a ‘region’. The ideas of the contemporary scholars give a new room for the discussions about the connections between different territories, regions, concepts of local/global, homogeneity/heterogeneity, place, space/time etc. Generally, the article strives to prefigure possible ‘framework’ for the concept of ‘region’ and main elements as well as problems of its definition, and its application possibilities in the anthropological studies. The term ‘region’ is often occurring both in everyday and academic languages. But the question is, if it is possible to describe what kind of content is framed within the word ‘region’, because it does not have its own exact definition. Still it is usual to relate the term ‘region’ with geographical terms of various kinds of territories, for example, area, place, site, city etc. The scholarly discussions about globalization, its elements and processes influence perceptions of different territorial units and start questioning their stability and fixity.
To conduct an ethnographic research means to do a job of investigating something, which is always geographically located in a particular place: a village, a city, a country, or an area. A map is the first attribute of an ethnographer. But anytime we, as ethnographers, take the map and choose an ethnographic site to study it becomes immediately filled up in our imagination with the discourses already existing in historical, political, social, cultural, or local contexts. Then the question emerges about how does the view of a priori about the place come together with the ‘practise’ of fieldwork? The empirical ground of this article is my experience as of a researcher at the international EU project ‘Public Understanding of Genetics: A Cross-Cultural and Ethnographic Study of the “New Genetics” and Social Identity (2002–2004)’. Thus in the article I would like to discuss the role of ethnographic research in the construction of images about the place. I would return to the initial idea that region is a conventional category. Place-names and maps like natural symbols crystallize and justify the essence of its identity.