Informal Networks and Space at the Margins of the Russian State

Cross-border flows and encounters

The project outlines a comparative approach to investigate the flow of commodities and people, economic strategies and spatial practices of inhabitants in two different border regions of the Russian Far East. 

The Chukotka Autonomous Region (Chukotskii Avtonomnyi Okrug) and the Primore (Primorskii Krai) both frame the eastern part of the Russian Federation; Chukotka delineates its northeastern, the Primore its southeastern border. Despite its different geographic locations and climate (Chukotka is situated in the sub-arctic/arctic zone and the Primore in the temperate zone), both regions share a surprisingly similar historic sequence from a contested frontier during the 19th century, to a closed Soviet border zone, and finally to a transformed post-Soviet borderland. In addition, both regions are intensively linked by maritime transport as ships mostly originating form the port of Vladivostok supply Chukotka’s remote settlements.

By comparing and juxtaposing commonalities and differences of the two border regions through time, the project envisions exploring the longue durée­ of two Russian borderlands. The central guiding question is how local residents through time have used the borderland in both cases as a resource. Formal and informal economic strategies of the inhabitants of these border regions and the spatial dimensions of these practices are the main focus of the project. Special attention will be directed to the interdependence of the formal and informal in the political and economic spheres of the two borderlands. Investigating cross-border trade, labor migration, and territorial and conceptual borders, the project proposes to explore how new border regimes influence and shape the socio-economic situation and notions of self among border residents. 

The website is an experiment in visualizing cross-border flows and encounters in different border regions. Intended to be an archive of geo-referenced ethnographic journal entries, local voices, cursory descriptions, and images, the core of the site is a database of Google Earth compatible and downloadable .kmz files that cover a range of topics that are connected to the project's general research theme. These files allow the visitor to explore different aspects of and journeys inside the borderlands of the Russian Far East. 

The goal is to develop a novel form of geo-visualization that is able to depict static sites, interconnections between individual places as well as economic relationships and commodity flows. Interviews and other qualitative information will thus be spatially grounded in relation to local ecology, topography and boundary lines, addressing the project’s general question to what degree and in what form border space can be used by individual actors.

This is an project under construction, a work in progress where over time the threats and traces of borderlanders will weave the intricate meshwork of cross-border flows and mobilities.

This website and associated project is currently funded by an National Science Foundation Arctic Social Science grant (# 1124615, Far Eastern Borderlands: Informal Networks and Space at the Margins of the Russian State. Yet, the presented material stems from multiple years of fieldwork and funding sources, notably the National Science Foundation, European Science Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. All the ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinion of the author.

Uelen, 2009