Forum: What is the Role of “Regional Studies” in Contemporary Anthropology? — Exploring the Case of Central Asia
Replies by Gulnara Aitpayeva, Aida Aaly Alymbaeva, Aksana Ismailbekova, Alima Bissenova, Kulshat Medeuova, Svetlana Gorshenina, Diana Ibanez-Tirado, Magnus Marsden, Tohir Kalandarov, Natalia Kosmarkaya, Emil Nasritdinov, Boris Petric, Madeleine Reeves, Igor Savin, Anna Cieślewska, Tommaso Trevisani, Zulaykho Usmonova, Jesko Schmoller
The fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent development of new nation-states in the post-Soviet space, along with the increasing momentum of social, political, and cultural reorganization globally, have challenged the field of anthropology and ethnography to restructure how knowledge is acquired and systematized. One of the issues that has come up during the course of these changes is how to restructure regional studies: are regional studies possible as such, or should the concept be abandoned as the division between research interests becomes more “problematic”? If regionality is maintained, then how should researchers perceive these “regions” and their borders? This question is particularly relevant for Russian anthropology and ethnography, which has long developed and institutionalized as a complex of clear-cut regional subdivisions. There is concern that without regional expertise, the profession of anthropology and ethnography will lose its disciplinary identity, continuity, existing schools of thought, and professionalism. At the same time, there is an awareness that prioritizing regionality and maintaining the regional boundaries of the past is inconsistent with contemporary scholarly methods and the realities of a globalizing and rapidly transforming world order.
Another issue is the stake that governments and political elite have in the way regional studies are restructured, and the competition between various political interests to name a given region and define its borders. In this context, anthropologists and ethnographers need to self-reflect on their personal reasons for participating in political projects, and whether or not they will become neo-colonialist actors in the new “great game.” In this Forum researchers discuss these issues in the context of Central Asia, or Central Asian Studies.
Keywords: Regional Studies, Area Studies, Central Asia, Central Asian Studies.
A Prayer for Rain in Soviet Central Asia (Muslim Practices in the Atheist State)
By Sergey Abashin
The history of secularisation in the twentieth century is often described as the process of “driving religion out” of the social and political domain, and confining it to private, peripheral, and marginalized spaces. In this article, I explore how Islam fared in what was the most explicitly anti-religious society in the twentieth century, namely, the USSR. I argue that even in this extremely controlled society, there was a certain recognition of religion built into the administrative structures and patterns of behaviour. Drawing on ethnographic interpretation of a number of Muslim rituals that I observed in Central Asia from 1989–1991, I illustrate the ways in which religious identities and practices were legitimised under the Soviet regime, and the tools that made it possible to play the double game of revealing and concealing Muslimness. I argue against the attempt to essentialise Sovietness and Muslimness and against the explicit or implicit desire to define them comprehensively, draw precise demarcation lines between “Soviet” and “non-Soviet”, or “Muslim” and “non-Muslim”, and counterpose one against the other. We are able to see the different ways in which Muslimness can informally exist in the public sphere and merge with Soviet ideological rhetoric, as well as the double game in which various actors engage in their desire to retain, or make use of, particular identities and attributes. This approach does not deny the fact that there were repression and persecution campaigns against the religion, nor does it deny the fact that secular practices and convictions were widespread; it forces us, however, to avoid the simplistic, deterministic, and straightforward manner of writing about the recent Soviet past and post-Soviet present.
Keywords: rituals, Islam, Soviet identity, Central Asia, USSR.
Feasts of Merit in Western Europe: Medieval Irish Briugas and Traditions of Public Feasting in South and South East Asia
By Dmitry Nikolaev
This paper presents an attempt at providing a new interpretation for the institute of briugas — public feasting held by wealthy farmers in order to advance their social standing — described in early medieval Irish legal treatises and narrative texts. This institute is interpreted as a variation on the tradition of feasts of merit widespread in South and both continental and insular South East Asia, which was considered to be completely absent in Western Europe. I give an overview of the institute of briugas as it is described in early sources and present comparanda: ethnographic descriptions of feasts of merit among the Kalash (Pakistan), Sangtam Naga (north-eastern India), and Ifugao (Philippines). Analysis of early Irish legal sources in light of this data leads to the conclusion that due to its heterarchical structure, early Irish society retained (or recreated) an extremely archaic social custom, which is also possibly reported by the Greek ethnographers for the continental Celtic societies.
Keywords: feasts of merit, South East Asia, heterarchy, early Irish law.
About Place. An Ethno-рhenomenological Essay
By Andrey Stepanov
This paper explores the correlation between spatial forms of experience and their expression in speech. The subject of this investigation is the phenomenon of place, revealed in spontaneous utterances by a lexeme of the same name. The lexeme place, as shown in this work, expresses spatial experience, thematising its constitutives such as place itself, activity, thing, time, etc. This experience, depending on the situation, reflects in different ways the personal and social aspects of human life. The main role here is played by a physical factor which underlies spatiality and is a key area of reference for the lexeme under study. In all cases of its use, the lexeme place refers to the reality where the body is located and/or acts, because the place is constituted by the body and the action. The body appears as an operator enabling different possibilities. On the one hand, it becomes an instrument and object of social construction, and on the other hand, it becomes an instrument of personal identification with place and as a result of self-fulfillment. This paper is based on materials from field research conducted in 2000s–2010s in a northern Russian village, as well as data from dialect dictionaries.
Keywords: lexeme, place, space, phenomenon, doxa, reference, body, activity, speech.
“Anthropology. Folklore Studies. Sociolinguistics”
Parenting at a Distance: Transnational Practices in Migrant Families from Tajikistan
By Elena Borisova
In this paper, I consider some transnational practices in performing parental care at a distance in the families of labour migrants from northern Tajikistan. My research is based on fieldwork conducted in several villages in the Kanibadam region of the Republic of Tajikistan. There are a number of aspects to take into account when researching transnational parenting. This paper is limited to a consideration of transnational practices that link migrant parents and the children they leave behind, e.g. regular home visits, phone calls, and photo and gift exchanges. Parental experience is highly gendered: a mother’s departure, as a rule, is not so much stigmatised in the sending community, as it is legitimised by parental obligations. However, financial support is insufficient, and mothers do not withdraw from the upbringing process, but provide emotional support for their children using modern means of communication. There are different modes of involvement in care at a distance, excluding an intensive one, but researchers should avoid normative judgements about the quality of such parenting. Instead more emphasis should be placed on how transnational families overcome distance and negotiate family contexts, and how a sense of familial unity and proximity is constructed.
Keywords: migration, transnationalism, care at a distance, Central Asia.
Constructing “Greek” and “Albanian”: Linguistic Ideologies in the Greek-speaking Communities of Southern Albania (Northern Epirus)
By Ekaterina Zheltova
This paper studies linguistic ideologies in the Greek-speaking communities of Southern Albania (Northern Epirus). The research is based on data collected during two field trips held in August-September 2014 and in February 2015 in two bilingual regions of Southern Albania, Himara and Dropul. Ca. 60 respondents of different age, gender, and social backgrounds took part in the research. For collecting material, the methods of semi-structured interviews and participant observation were used. In my analysis, I take the methodological perspective of discourse analysis.
This article aims to present some of the ideas my consultants articulated about the linguistic codes that constitute their multilingual repertoire, to classify them, and to analyse them in the contexts of identity construction specific to these communities.
The linguistic ideologies presented in the paper fall into two categories: “beliefs about Albanian in contrast with Greek” and “beliefs about the local Greek idiom”. These linguistic ideologies manage the social boundaries between local communities and the two “significant others:” the “imagined communities” of Greek and Albanian national states. They are instrumental in people’s search for the imagined “motherland” of the Greek nation-state, and, at the same time, help support the local identity and adjust the status of their community to the situation, as well as “improve” locality turning it into ethnicity.
Keywords: language and identity, linguistic ideologies, ethnicity and nationalism, minority, Southern Albania.
“New Farmers” in Japan
By Ksenia Kurochkina
Since the 1990s many young Japanese people have started to repopulate rural areas to work as farmers. The number of new farmers increased threefold for the last twenty years. Popular images as well as recent scholarship on the subject portray young farmers as striving for rural revitalisation, resisting the conventional workplace, nostalgic, and essentially non-materialistic. This paper argues that there are various motivations behind recent ruralisation of young people in Japan. Longstanding fieldwork in the Japanese countryside (2011–2015) reveals that many young people aim to escape from the system of collective capitalism by choosing the work and life style of a rural farmer. They strive for a meaningful job, slow life, and worklife balance. At the same time, some people utilise new opportunities in the countryside, develop their agribusinesses, and do not attempt to resist the status quo. Countryside in contemporary Japan creates a new social arena for people to rethink their values of work and life.
Keywords: new farmers, Japan, work culture, motivation of ruralisation.
“All the Falsehood from the Devil”: “Magic” and “Demonological” Motivation in Vocabulary with the Meaning of Deceit
By Valeriya Kuchko
This article focuses on the links between the semantic field of deceit and the semantic area of magic and demonology as revealed within the inner form of language units, and the logic of the development of their meanings. The spaces of etymologic-formative families to which these two semantic fields belong are also considered. The links found manifest the folk conception of deceit, according to which the deceiver is perceived as superhuman in nature. The materials for the work are tokens and collocations of the Russian nation-wide language and dialects. The words with the meaning of deceit motivated by designations for wizards, sorcerers, magic acts, and evil forces, are analysed in terms of their semantics and motivation. The main models of semantic development of the units considered are revealed. Among them are the schemes “sorcerer / evil spirit” → “deceiver”, “to practise sorcery / to act as evil forces” → “to deceive”. Possible motivational solutions for some lexical and phraseological units are given, for example, besomyzhnichat ‘to deceive’ (Pskov region), veryovochnyi chort ‘deceiver’ (Pskov region). A number of reasons for the active participation of chort and bes (or “devil”) in the formation of units with the meaning of deceit are suggested.
Keywords: Russian dialects, dialect lexis and phraseology, ethnolinguistics, semantic and motivational analysis, semantics of deceit.
On Studying the Linguistic World of Russian Lamentations: The “Deprivation” Category and Its Text Implementation
By Olesya Surikova
This article considers the category of deprivation in Russian ritual lamentations which is based on the idea of privation, or lack / shortage of something. This idea is conceptually significant for the genre: it forms the lament’s motivic structure and is expressed by lexical-semantic means. The most direct and productive way to linguistically implement of the deprivation category is using wordformative caritives, or the words and word combinations using bez, which is a preposition and prefix meaning “without,” and expressing shortage or lack of something. In general, words and word combinations with bez have a high frequency in the laments, however, they occur to varying degrees in texts with different functional types of lamentations. The most bez-constructions are found in recruit lamentations, and the least are found in wedding laments. This article shows that these differences are not accidental and are explained from the standpoint of linguopragmatics. On the one hand, they are connected with the peculiarities of rites associated with lamentations. On the other hand, the specificity of lamentation texts are important, including the place of the lament (its verbal code) in the structure of the ritual, and the organisation of character system in a particular functional type of lamentation.
Keywords: linguofolkloristics, folklore pragmatics, folklore language, Russian ritual lamentations, preposition and prefix bez ‘without’.
Review of Stephane A. Dudoignon, Christian Noack (eds.), Allah’s Kolkhozes: Migration, De-Stalinisation, Privatisation and the New Muslim Congregations in the Soviet Realm (1950s — 2000s). Berlin: Klaus Schwartz Verlag, 2014, 541 pp., maps, photographs, indices, bibliographies.
By Alfrid Bustanov
This review covers important research, based on rich archival and field work, on the history of the Muslim communities of the former Soviet Union. The main message of the authors is a connection between the economic development of rural communities and the processes of re-Islamisation. The reviewer draws attention to possibilities for further study in the field.
Keywords: Islam in the Soviet Union, kolkhozes, re-Islamisation, political Islam.
Review of Sophie Hohmann, Claire Mouradian, Silvia Serrano, Julien Thorez (eds.), Development in Central Asia and the Caucasus: Migration, Democratisation and Inequality in the Post-Soviet Era. London; New York: IB Tauris, 2014, 399 pp.
By Denis Letnyakov
This review is devoted to the book Development in Central Asia and the Caucasus: Migration, Democratisation and Inequality in the Post-Soviet Era. It is the product of an international research project by historians, anthropologists, political scientists, demographers, and some other scholars. The key point of the book that connects all the authors is the analysis of the Post-Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia as a “new Global South.” From this perspective, the problems of poverty, migration, social inequality, and state and nation-building are considered in the monograph.
Keywords: the post-Soviet space, “new South”, Central Asia, Caucasus, postcolonial studies, migration, poverty, inequality.
Review of Stephanie Cronin (ed.), Anti-Veiling Campaigns in the Muslim World: Gender, Modernism and the Politics of Dress. London; New York: Routledge, 2014, 288 pp.
By Guzel Yusupova
This book examines the state-sponsored anti-veiling campaigns that swept in the period between the two world wars in the Balkans and Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The publication is the result of a conference held in September 2011 at the St. Anthony’s College University of Oxford and represents a collection of articles. All of the papers also contribute to the understanding of contemporary debates about gender, Islam, and modernity by raising a number of questions about the relationship between Muslim woman dressing discourse and the real politics derived from it.
Keywords: gender studies, history of Islam, Islam and modernism, history of the hijab, woman in Islam, politics of dress.
Review of Svetlana Peshkova, Women, Islam, and Identity, Public Life in Private Spaces in Uzbekistan. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014, 352 pp.
By Anna Cieślewska
This review discusses Women, Islam, and Identity, Public Life in Private Spaces in Uzbekistan by Svetlana Peshkova, who analyses the status and role of female informal religious practitioners called bibi otun / otyncha / bibi oy, in Uzbekistan. These spiritual female leaders deal with a variety of issues related to spiritual life, teaching children, and women religion, as well as performing rituals and prayers for the female part of the community in some parts of Central Asia. Peshkova analyses the sphere of influence of female religious leaders in the context of religion and everyday life. The material reflects the political, social, and economic issues of Uzbekistan by exploring the personal narratives of three female personages. The book is based on a field research conducted by the author in 2001, 2002–2003, and 2011 in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley.
Keywords: female religious leaders, Islam, a religious policy, Uzbekistan.
Review of Mehran Kamrava, Zahra Babar (eds.), Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf. London: Hurst & Company, 2012, 238 pp.
By Nikolay Steblin-Kamenskiy
In some Persian Gulf countries, expatriate workers make up as much as eighty-five to ninety percent of the population; nevertheless they remain almost invisible to the outside world. The contributors of this book pay attention to the views of expatriate workers themselves, and that helps them to challenge some of the established approaches to labour migration. Original and empirically grounded research, as well as thoughtful use of terminology, is the major advantage of this book.
Keywords: labour migration, anthropology of migration, Persian gulf.
Letters to the Editor
Mikloukho-Maclay: New Legends
By Dmitriy Orehov
This is a critical review of D.D. Tumarkin’s monograph “The White Papuan” (Moscow, 2011), wherein an attempt to comprehensively summarize the life of an outstanding Russian scholar, N. N. Mikloukho-Maclay, is undertaken. This review suggests that the book is not free from factual mistakes: the history of the aristocratic family of the Mikloukhs is incorrectly described, and the explorer’s ancestry is misrepresented. Another serious flaw of the research is its ideological bias.
Keywords: the history of science, biography of N. N. Mikloukho-Maclay, the Mikloukhs family, ideological bias.