Current Projects ETIS Project Team Duration

Estonian semiotics in cross-cultural context: New primary data and prospects for recalibration in the 21st century

This project seeks to situate Estonian semiotics of the 1960-1980s within the larger European intellectual-historical context from which it sprang, and in which it played a vital, but still largely unrecognized, role. Unlike the accepted Russocentric narrative of the Tartu-Moscow School, which fails to take into account Estonian scholars’ engagement with their peers throughout Europe, the publications and conferences we propose to develop will outline an “entangled history” (histoire croisée) of multi-directional scientific and philosophical influence. In this perspective, Estonia emerges as a hub of European semiotics and structuralism writ large and not merely a progressive outpost of Soviet science. Because the nature of this project’s subject is such that it will require methodological innovations in social network analysis and transcultural history, it will bring to the history of science and associated disciplines an array of new techniques, primary materials, and research tools.



Igor Pilschikov
Mikhail Trunin


Culturescapes in transformation: towards an integrated theory of meaning making

The main objective of the project is to approach the ‘travelling concepts’ of spatiality, textuality, and nation from the point of view of cultural meaning-making processes. The very site of meaning-making is viewed as culturescape – the web of collectively shared practices of meaning-formation that embraces the production, distribution, consumption and preservation of collectively shared meanings. Our intent is to understand how the old and new ways of meaning-making negotiate their positions in transforming the culturescape. Our intent is also to integrate approaches from various disciplines in order to propose an epistemological strategy for understanding culture-dependent meaning-formation processes that are at work in our everyday life and that constitute the way things and events are experienced by human beings in their corresponding cultural contexts.


Hannes Palang
Patrick Laviolette
Tõnu Viik
Helen Sooväli-Sepping
Marju Kõivupuu


Urban Walkscapes: Socio-Material Assemblages of Pedestrian Practices and Regulations in Tallinn, Estonia

This human geographical project aims to better understand the ways in which legal and social norms of urban walking relate to one another in physical and socio-cultural landscape. While ‘walking studies’ has rapidly expanded over the last decade, looking into different conditions of walking as well as embodied practices of walking, not much social research attention has yet been paid to the very mundane and regular governing practices that target the ways in which pedestrian activity is carried out. This project takes further my doctoral research finding that governing is never a simple procedure: rather, it has to deal with materiality of regulations and social norms influenced by socio-cultural and historical sentiments. The project uses landscape as a concept that brings together material, visual, embodied and socio-legal aspects to investigate these questions in urban environments. Walkscapes, as conceptualised here, are meshworks of walking practices, environments and understandings of how, where and when it is proper to walk. The project thus asks three research questions: 1) How do social rules interact with legal rules? 2) How is walking related to the different meanings of post-socialism? 3) How do pedestrians negotiate different mobile and immobile materialities in different urban landscapes? The project proposes to investigate these questions through the case of the city of Tallinn, Estonia using observational techniques, walk-along interviews and document analysis.


Tauri Tuvikene


Estonia between East and West: The Paradigm of the Images of "Own", "Other", "Strange", "Enemy" in Estonian Cultures in the 20th Century

This research is centered on the relations and interactions within the triangle Estonia—Russia—Russians in Estonia (with some examples related to Latvians, Germans, etc). The general goal of the project is to explain—on the basis of changes within a paradigm’s framework—the importance of the perseption of other cultures and peoples as a means to preserve the identity and to raise the cultural level of the titular nation. This will be done in historical perspective and on the basis of the biggest national groups. One of the most significant results of the project may become the proof that the system OTHER/STRANGER/ENEMY does not necessarily imply negative content. Different parts of this complex contribute to constructing different forms of national self-identity. Demonstrating this system in action (and from the viewpoints of both sides), makes it possible to realize the situation of a certain historical period. As a result, we see the removal of understanding barriers in the society.


Irina Belobrovtseva
Galina Ponomarjova
Anneli Mihkelev
Aurika Meimre


The Making of Livonia: Actors, Institutions and Networks in the Medieval and Early Modern Baltic Sea Region

The main objective of the project is to analyse the establishment of new social, political, religious, cultural and economic institutions in Livonia from the 12th to 17th centuries, their local adaptation and widespread integration into different international networks, as well as the emergence of new actors inside of these institutions. But on a deeper level the goal is more ambitious: to study the foundation of an increasingly complex and heterogeneous society on the medieval Baltic frontier – ‘the making of Livonia’. Methodologically, the project consolidates a new research agenda that combines three rather independently developed fields: historical studies, visual culture studies and material culture studies. Our intent is also to carry out this research on two levels: historical level and mnemohistorical level, on the level of our actual knowledge of the past (medieval and early modern Livonia), and on the level of reception history of the previous representations of this past.


Anu Mänd
Juhan Kreem
Marika Mägi
Erki Russow
Marek Tamm


Moving on? Reconnecting three core intuitions in cultural theory

Many currently popular views within cultural theory and the theory of history postulate a broad shift in disciplinary concerns, suggesting that the challenges facing today’s theorists and practitioners are no longer those of the various "turns" since the 1960s. The proposed project aims to assess whether prominent dismissals of "postmodernism" and "narrativism," for instance, are substantially justified or whether the shift in focus might instead more prosaically reflect practical concerns such as changing fashions or professional demands for innovativeness. The guiding thesis is that much of the current confidence that cultural theory can “move on” from these debates is misplaced and often philosophically uninformed: fundamental questions posed in previous theory debates remain unanswered and it seems premature to dismiss them as irrelevant. The project will (re)present these problems in terms employed by the promoters of "new" agendas in order to draw out more considered answers.


Kalle Pihlainen
Tõnu Viik
Oliver Laas


The political economy of industrial health and safety: a social anthropology perspective

The project asks why industrial accidents and injuries happen and how they are socially produced. It proposes a social anthropology approach to the study of links between Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and industrial injury in mining. The project draws on political economy perspective assuming that OHS is never neutral but socially and historically constructed in the struggle between capital and labour. It takes a step further by suggesting that the focus should not be only on the labour process but the wider relations and world views of communities and corporations and the political-economy frame should be complemented by the study of everyday practices. New methodologies drawing on medical anthropology and study of trauma will be developed in order to study the sensitive topic. The research will use participant observation, survey and interviewing in a comparative study of two mines in Estonia and Kazakhstan to explore the social production of OHS and injuries.


Eeva Kesküla


A Transnational Setting for Estonian History: Transcultural Entanglements, International Organisations and Transborder Migrations (16th – 21st Centuries)

The main objective of this project is to introduce a transnational setting for Estonian history. We propose an alternative perspective to detach Estonian historiography from its conventional frame, the history of a national project. In using transnational historical phenomena from the 16th-21st centuries as case studies we propose an innovative analytical frame to explore the historical roots of Estonian European identity. We presume that non-national actors, such as religious communities, imperial networks, global organisations and transborder migrants played a crucial role in this context. Methodologically we build on the hypothesis that multi-ethnic empires, especially on their peripheries, are characterised by contact zones characterised by transnational currents and transcultural transfers. We want thus to keep up with international discourses in the field of historiography and to integrate Estonian history writing into the growing international network of transnational history.


Karsten Brüggemann
Magnus Ilmjärv
Aivar Jürgenson
Inna Jürjo
Aivar Põldvee


After the Explosion: Autobiography, Subjectivity and Utterance in Juri Lotman’s Late Works

This project is dedicated to Juri Lotman’s works from 1990-1993, written mostly after his monograph "Culture and Explosion". Lotman’s late works, including his unpublished collection "Scattered pages: A Diary of a Mad Semiotician", are a fusion of autobiography, scholarly study, and theoretical inquiry – a sophisticated interplay between intended subjectivity and the theoretical framework capable of supporting it. This practically unstudied part Lotman’s legacy will be viewed as a form of "auto-ethnography", and will be approached as a part of "autobiographical turn" in cultural studies, with a focus on "questioning the questioning subject", analyzing situated and embodied knowledge, an autobiographical authority, and the determinants of critical theory. The project aims at making Lotman’s late works available to the specialists and general public, and studying in depth the scholar’s late turn to intended subjectivity in the context of resent developments in the humanities.


Tatjana Kuzovkina
Igor Karlovski
Piret Peiker


Cultural change and conflict: a theoretical model

The goal of this project is to develop a model of cultural changes and conflicts, based on the methodology introduced in my book "Meaning in Action: Outline of an Integral Theory of Culture". As a result of globalization, many essentially positive processes such as democratization, decolonization, infotechnological progress etc. have jointly brought about an overflow of information. The institutions meant to handle it, however, are unable to cope with the situation. On the other hand, the growing inequality and insecurity that has been caused by current economic and political developments as well as ecological problems have set in motion large flows of migration and simultaneously inspired an upsurge of xenophobia and nationalism in many parts of the “first world”. These issues cannot be adequately analyzed only in terms of social processes, which is why I intend to develop a model that examines them in the context of the internal dynamics of the cultural field.


Rein Raud


Queer life-world in late Soviet Estonia (1960-80s)

This postdoctoral project aims at filling a large research gap by studying LGBT history of Soviet Union after Stalin (1953-1991) in the Estonian example. The study aims to analyse communicative networks and identification patterns among queer people through extensive oral history research. Queer history of post-Stalinist Soviet Union is generally understudied; contemporary Estonia offers good empirical materials and moderately tolerant academic environment for completing such a task. The project will promote democratization of civic society and offer important and interesting results to wider public. Academically, the study will contribute to better understanding of late soviet individualisation processes and personal identification patterns with large social categories (such as Soviet state, ethnicity, and profession); it will also help to explore methodological issues with applying Western queer theory in the Eastern European context.


Uku Lember


ICZM Plans for Sustaining Coastal and Marine Human-ecological Networks in the Baltic Region

SustainBaltic is targeting to: Four ICZM case plans from Estonia (2) and Finland (2), which are produced based on the current spatial data on ecological, land use and human activities. The novelty approach of SustainBaltic is on the close co-working in order to define the most crucial ICZM planning criteria to be utilised and implemented further in Central Baltic Programme area.




Tarmo Pikner


"Between the Times": Embattled Temporalities and Political Imagination in Interwar Europe                       

The project offers a political history of the scholarly imagination in interwar Europe that places the demise of historicism and progressivism at the center of some of its most seminal ethical, political and methodological revolutions. It examines the construction of new, anti-teleological visions of time across fields (jurisprudence, literary theory, linguistics, sociology, philosophy) and within intellectual groupings who crucially shaped the debates of the period. It challenges the standard focus in intellectual history on one or two national contexts by following out the interactions of these groupings in France, Germany, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Britain. What were the political languages encoded in anti-teleological representations of time and how were political aims advanced through theoretical innovation? How did the politics of ideas differ in different national contexts and why? How can these alternative historicities illuminate the present crisis of progressivism?


Liisi Keedus


Storms - Climate Extremes in estonia and their Impact on Society

The project focuses on tempestuous weather and storms that have often been associated with other environmental utterances. Scientists have put forward an opinion that the weather turbulence of the last 150 years has significantly increased (Jaagus et al. 2015). Do written sources provide us with the same information? If so, what strategies have societies implemented in order to prevent potentially negative consequences? The idea of the project is to bind together data provided both by hard and soft science (history and culture) on weather extremes making the results available for use as a supplement for EuroClimHist database kept and updated on a regular basis at the University of Bern.



Ulrike Plath


Virtual Education Experience in an Extended Nordic Context 

Viedex is a project for higher education running for three years, funded by the European Union. The group of project partners consists of teachers and researchers from five universities in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Iceland.
The main aim with the project is to develop an e-learning module in Business Swedish for higher education in Nordic and Baltic countries which fills a gap in existing language course offerings in these countries. The virtual e-learning module package will be available online for open access and will be adaptable to different forms of education and staff training in companies where Swedish is used as one of the working languages.
Another outcome of the project is a research review on the use and practices of Swedish as business lingua franca in Nordic and Baltic countries. For that an questionnaire will be distributed to the companies in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Island where Swedish is used as one of the working languages.


Kristiina Tedremaa-Levorato