Coffee break conversations with Tiina Sotkasiira:

“Talking back is a way of adding human connection  and societal inclusiveness.”

By Tiina Soininen

Your main claim is that young people from North Caucasus, who face a minority position in Russia, are ’talking back’. What do you mean by this?

”In Russia, nationality politics and everyday discourses on ethnicity define certain positions for the young people coming from North-Caucasus. The young people agree with some of these positions but at the same time they strongly disagree with some of them. The ’talking back’ is about presenting alternative interpretations and constructions of these positions. Talking back is about how these individuals attempt to gain a dialogic relationship with the structures that national political framing and general discourse presents,” says Sotkasiira. She gives an example of religious pondering of the youth. ”For example, it is typical to draw parallels between Caucasians and terrorism – The young people are talking against this practise. They view their religion in a different light. For them, religion can be ’pure’ or ‘impure’. With the ’pure’ religious idea they refer to their internalized sense of God, while they talk about ‘impure’ Islam to  distance themselves from the ways in which religion can be used to argue for one’s own political or power objectives. Young people vision many alternative ways to understand Islam.”

Can the ‘talking back’ be universally generalized to young people in Russia or elsewhere in the world?

“The ‘talking back’ is a concept that has been used in research of several different minority groups, like women, immigrants in other parts of the world etc. It is a strategy for constructing of self in a situation where structures and discourses put pressures on individual’s life construction.”

Can the latest riots in Stockholm be interpreted as one way of ‘talking back’?

“There is not one all-inclusive explanation why young people take part in riots. Immigrants or minorities are not the only social groups that riot. For example, in Oulu in 1990 we had a similar incident in which local youngsters clashed with the police and this had nothing to do with immigration. In relation to Stockholm, some participants may be “talking back” but this happens in multiple levels. Economical, social and political situations of the young there and, also, the question of ethnic discrimination may all be a part of individual experiences which then cumulate and turn into rioting. This said, individuals often have different reasons for taking part in riots and these structural features affect individuals in various ways and with specific weights and also cause different reactions,” Sotkasiira concludes.

Do you see this ‘talking back’ concept as a positive social force in the current societies?

“When it is manifested in its extreme, it is not a positive force. Rather, many people may get hurt when violence occurs. But the life is not only black and white! You know.” Sotkasiira says and emphasizes this with a smile. “The ‘talking back’ is a way to point out the flaws in our society and each of us should be ready to listen to these experiences, when possibilities arise. It is a way for young people to search for interaction and engage in conversations with the surrounding society –it is a way of adding human connection and societal inclusiveness in everyday encounters.”

Tiina Sotkasiira is a researcher in the University of Eastern Finland, Karelian Institute. She defended her doctoral thesis entitled Caucasian Encounters. North Caucacian youth and the politics of identification in contemporary Russia 7.6.2013.

‘Coffee break conversations’ is a new series of introducing research done in the Karelian Institute.

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