The Construction and Negotiation of Borders

The University College of Finnmark in Alta and the Barents Institute will launch a three year joint research programme called “The Construction and Negotiation of Borders: Discourses Related to the Border between Norway and Russia” supported by major funding from the Strategic University College Programme of the Research Council of Norway.
Project leader:
Arvid Viken, Finnmark University College Campus Kirkenes
Principal investigators:
Marit Bjerkeng, Finnmark University College
Helena Jokila, Barents Institute and University of Helsinki
Stein R. Mathisen, Finnmark University College
Kjell Olsen, Finnmark University College
Sonni Olsen, Finnmark University College
Jessica Shadian, Barents Institute
Urban Wråkberg, Barents Institute.

In recent years there has been an increased focus on border studies. One reason is the recognition of a more international and global world, another is the creation of new national states and new international regions, and therefore new borders with new functions. Some borders that have been much focused upon are those created by the split of the old Soviet Union, and between the new Russia and the neighbouring countries. The border in focus for this study is one of those; the border between Russia and Norway.

Traditionally Northern Norway has been regarded as a site for cultural encounters, and as an area where most people perform their lives in a context that is a mixture of Norwegian, Sami and Finnish (kvensk) cultures. It has been maintained that this culture is neither monolithic or hybrid, but an integrated culture where borders and cultural diversity are parts of the everyday life. Rosaldo has called such areas cultural border zones, and he claims that such entities always are in motion. This perspective can also be applied to areas facing national borders, often called borderlands. Borders or boundaries are created to separate, but most often there are social, cultural and political relations across the national borders that also unify neighbour people. Globally, very many national borders have been revised during recent decades, and in most places national borders have altered their meanings. This is also the case with the boundary between Russia and Norway, around which a new borderland is emerging, labelled the Barents Region. This is a very dynamic area, having a development that fits into an international pattern of a constantly more mobile, fluid or liquid society. This study will analyse the flow of ideas and people across this border; how ideas are formed, transformed and transferred with the mobilities of politics, projects and people.

The overarching research question in this project is: How do people on different arenas cross and negotiate the border in performing their lives, professionally or privately, and how are different discourses concerning the border, borderland and the border discourses created and inscribed in these processes. The Barents Region is a border zone with encounters between strongly diverging societies. But there are also tensions between traditions and modernity, between different ethnic groups and traditions, between the global and the local, and between different ways of subsistence adaptations. And the processes that go on in borderlands reflect and materialise both local, national and global systems of knowledge and meaning. The study will seek to study the quality of relations between individuals, groups, organisations and institutions, it is this interaction, exchange of participation that forms the basis for building trust between actors. Below is an abstract of some of the approaches and problems that are part of this research programme.
Reseach area I: The political perceptions of border and border policies
Researchers: Arvid Viken and Jessica Shadian
A recent study of transformation and identity constructions in Kirkenes indicate that there is an elite of people in Kirkenes, for whom the Barents Region, Barents politics, and the constitution of Kirkenes as a Barents town are vital issues . The study also shows how the Barents rhetoric partly has been a success, and partly has its shortcomings. There is an urge to create a Barents identity, but there is also a significant resistance. The border identity seems to have a much more accepted platform, but there are also other identities of importance, particularly one related to nature and outdoor recreation, and another related to history of the mine and traditional industries. It seems as if the Barents rhetoric primarily is a strategy to give Kirkenes a new identity and platform, and so far the Barents rhetoric has given raise to lots of projects and activities, and thus, represents a significant driving force.
Research area II: The Construction of Legal Border
Researcher: Helena Jokila
The vision of Barents cooperation is that the Kirkenes – Pechenga area could be transformed
into a mutual economic area, flourishing trade and industrial Pomor Zone. The close collaboration in various fields of activities between Norway and Russia is needed to make the idea become true. This concerns also legal exchange and interaction. Legal collaboration should cover, among other fields, the common efforts against international economic crime. Police cooperation to combat international organized criminality promotes trust in market and business. It functions as a necessary backup structure and practice to enhance the healthy environment for economic growth.

This study examines how the border between Norway and Russia is interpreted within the criminal justice sector. How is the border constructed in the interaction between and in the minds of the police and other criminal justice agencies in Kirkenes and Pechenga? How should one create conditions for the transformation of the border image – from a dividing line between two states and cultures foreign to each other, to a connecting bridge which supports mutual exchange and growth of wealth? By way of examining the meaning of the border and the purpose of the collaboration, concrete problems within the areas of common efforts can be defined. This research strategy aims at setting the agenda for future problem-solving and change.

The research belongs to the field of socio-legal studies. The study is conducted by using the knowledge management method of logical structuralism. This practical method is widely applied in research on organizational learning to assist with figuring out and solving problems in organisations. The method will be applied by way of interviewing relevant criminal justice agencies on both sides of the border.
Research area III: Cultural exchange in the borderlands
Researcher: Stein R. Mathisen
Research area IV: Border tourism
Researcher: Arvid Viken and Kjell Olsen
Research area V: Coping with language in border relations
Researchers: Marit Bjerkeng and Sonni Olsen
Research area VI: Student exchange as creation of cosmopolitans
Researcher: Kjell Olsen
Research area VII: The epistemology of borderland research
Researcher: Urban Wråkberg, Barents Institute
The last perspective in this research project will be to apply an epistemological and social perspective on the research of the borderland itself, both in social and natural science. (Linking to research theme 1 and focussing the arena for cross border interaction of culture and arts, while adding research as a socially constructed activity.) The idea that will be investigated is the preconceived view of the neighbour as a problem: for example a social and/or environmental problem, which destines many studies to focus on the neighbour as a producer/exporter of hazards, crimes and other anomalies that do not fit into the context of “our” country. In this line of implicit thinking the border becomes a driving force in research on how to measure and remedy these anomalies or alien phenomena. Another mechanism driving research across the border to “the other” is the idea that somehow the neighbouring territory is a repository of original, less modernised forms of life, especially as concerns indigenous culture, and this phenomenon/prejudice motivates research in the neighbouring country on issues of our own past. This effect, motivating ethnological and folkloristic research in both Norway and Russia, has been demonstrated by e.g. Kari Myklebost.

Newly renovated "Canadian house" in the Russian border town of Nikel. The house dates back to the first establishment of this mining town made in the 1930s by Canadian and French industrial enteprises.
Photo: Urban Wråkberg.
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