Belonging – non-belonging

On the concepts of belonging, conviviality and autochthony


Keywords: belonging, non-belonging, identity, conviviality, autochthony, vernacular

The article introduces to Estonian readers selected terms and concepts that have been developed in recent decades to describe and make sense of daily experiences of living with difference in contemporary multicultural and -lingual societies. The focus is on the concept of belonging as theorised by Elspeth Probyn, Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthias, among others; also discussed are autochthony and conviviality. The aim is to broaden the vocabulary and thus the ways of thinking about Estonia’s diverse population and about the different kinds of ties and experiences that bind individuals to Estonia. The idea that nationality (rahvus) equals ethnicity is prevalent in Estonian public discourse, as is the equation of cultural identity with national/ethnic identity. Belonging and conviviality provide vantage points from which to critique and reflect on the concept of identity and to go beyond such ingrained patterns of thought and speech.

Another motivation of this article is to acknowledge the common ground between interdisciplinary studies of belonging and folkloristics, much of which revolves around expressive forms and practices whereby belonging is sought and experienced – or contested and denied. The concept of vernacular and the idea of humble theory, which have inspired many folklorists over the past decades, build on lived quotidian experiences and ethnographic methods, as do studies of belonging and conviviality.


Elo-Hanna Seljamaa (b. 1980), PhD, University of Tartu, Department of Estonian and Comparative Folkloristics, Associate Professor (Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu), elo-hanna.seljamaa@ut.ee