Having a “Normal” Life in the ESSR: Biographical Experiences of Inter-Ethnic Marriage Situations

Uku Lember (Central European University)

My paper focuses on twenty life-story interviews with the members of inter-ethnic (Russian-Estonian) families from a particular age cohort: all men and women aged 50-75.  I ask how these people, all of whom share an experience of close contact with a contrasting cultural environment, construct and touch upon the notion of “normal” in their biographical narration. I pay attention to their struggles with present-day (rather Westernized) realities and past (rather socialist) notions of “normalcy” and to the (potential) will for liberating oneself from such socially constructed temporal imperatives. I also ask about the possible role that inter-ethnic family situations play in tackling the problem of social becoming, now and then.  First, my analysis deals with the emic definitions of “normal,” with the complexities that already lie in actors’ own narrations and conceptualizations. Second, I ask a more normative, etic question by measuring the interview material against the (Western?) idea of individualization process as normalcy in the late twentieth century.  How and in which frames do my informants construct themselves as actors?  As individualization is prevalent in contemporary Estonian society, this position should help clarify possible hesitations and tensions that my interviewees face while remembering, constructing, and narrating their socialist lives in contemporary Estonia.

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