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.
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.