ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Work, Ideology and Reflexivity within the Frame of Globalisation: Comparative Perspectives

Work, Ideology and Reflexivity within the Frame of Globalisation: Comparative Perspectives

This paper is an ethnological study of formerly tenured researchers in Uzbekistan in the academies of social and exact sciences set up during the Soviet era who have been retained as contractual employees. The study investigates work and economic relationships, the nature of the state, political constraints and the fear they inspire, the role of ideology and of the articulations linking it to science and knowledge. It also emphasises the epistemological importance of the methodological adjustments that are virtually imposed on the ethnologist.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200849Work, Ideology and Reflexivity within the Frame of Globalisation: Comparative PerspectivesMonique SelimThis paper is an ethnological study of formerly tenured researchers in Uzbekistan in the academies of social and exact sciences set up during the Soviet era who have been retained as contractual employees. The study investigates work and economic relationships, the nature of the state, political constraints and the fear they inspire, the role of ideology and of the articulations linking it to science and knowledge. It also emphasises the epistemological importance of the methodological adjustments that are virtually imposed on the ethnologist. Monique Selim ( is with the Institute of Research for Development, Paris.The globalisation of capitalism inevitably transforms the understanding of the social sciences, and in particular the anthropological sciences. A corollary of this is that the position of a given country within the process of globalisation has a decisive influence on its internal social relationships and also on interpretations based on local surveys. In the current situa-tion, integration into and exclusion from the globalisation proc-ess mark the polar extremities of national landscapes. These are differentiated to a variable extent in terms of rupture and conti-nuity. Within these different cases, specific micro-local situations can intensify the pauperisation of operators and their ejection, even though they may be sites of intense commercial attraction. Examples of this abound, and are dealt with in a multitude of journalists’ reports (shrimp-farming in Bangladesh, the perch fishery in Africa, etc) contributed to the case made in the media against globalisation. This centring/peripheralisation of glo-balised economic norms shows up configurations that can be par-ticularly enlightening when seen in a comparative perspective that reveals the overall logic governing their construction. With this in mind, in dealing with this subject I will start out with an ethnological study that is doubly atypical: in its setting – Uzbekistan – and also in the population being investigated – for-merly tenured researchers in the academies of social and exact sciences set up during the Soviet era who have been kept on under the new dispensation as contractual employees.After briefly describing this more or less “improbable” terrain and its most salient features, I will approach it from four different angles in order to view the analysis in a broader framework and detect its relevance to a more general order of things. I will focus successively on work and economic relationships; on the nature of the state, of political constraints and of the fear they inspire; on the role of ideology and of the articulations linking it to science and knowledge; and lastly on the epistemological importance of the methodological adjustments that are virtually imposed on the ethnologist, on his position and their evolving implications.1 SituationA peripheral republic of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Repub-lics (USSR), Uzbekistan was established by the Soviet state in the early 20th century. Setting it up proved relatively difficult, as there was resistance from local Muslim notabilities. It was almost against the general will of the latter that in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet empire, Uzbekistan became independent. A brief effer-vescence – political, social and cultural – came with the “per-estroika”; it was rapidly halted by elections that the majority of stakeholders today describe as having been rigged. These brought
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly50to power a government headed by the former first secretary of the Communist Party; he was still holding this post in 2005. The new state obstructed foreign injunctions to liberalise the econ-omy, though it did not manage to maintain the social insurance measures dating from the Soviet era; these subsisted as a mere form, soon to simply become a fiction. Today, some 15 years later, the state of the economy is disastrous. Enterprises have stopped production, disappearing one after the other. Workers who for-merly drew salaries, have been left to fend for themselves in the cities, and in rural areas to adapt to subsistence economies [Fathi 2004]. Conventional terms such as “unemployment” and “jobs” correspond neither to the situations in which these agents now find themselves, nor to the new ways in which they have to deal with day-to-day living. The minimum wage, raised from $5 in 2004 to $7 in 2005, today covers eg, about a third of the cost of using public transport in the capital. A skilled employee in a national establishment earns an average of $10-20. This has led to solicitation of money whenever there is social exchange or obligatory interaction of any sort, eg, in healthcare or education. Moreover, government restrictions on monetary liquidity have given rise to disproportionate forms of corruption at the summit of the hierarchy, with tribute being demanded in hard cash. In this way Uzbekistan has regularly widened the gap separating its economy from the global model; the market has become a distant dream and capitalism a fantasy. With the economy isolated and foundering, it is all the more remarkable that the ideological stance has not broken with the mode of state organisation that dates from the Soviet era. Ever since the first days of independence, when the Uzbek regime has pressed ahead with a series of major ideological operations to legitimise the new state. The head of state has become the princi-pal producer of a gigantic “oeuvre”; studied in the schools, it is prescribed reading for all diplomas at all levels in which candi-dates have to pass obligatory examinations, from primary school to postgraduate level. Those researchers who had not fled from the country, abandoning the sinking ship, were given the task of constructing (in the words of the ad hoc textbooks) a “national ideology” based on the “national idea”, to fill the “ideological gap” left by the fall of “communist totalitarianism” by asserting the “ideological immunity” of the regime to “ideological attack” from outside. During the first decade of the new regime, the Academy of Science failed no doubt to come up to expectations in this respect. This led the authorities to remove researchers from the payroll and invite them to respond to government calls for tenders, a novel form of competition. These calls for tenders, organised on a thematic basis, cover all disciplines in the social and exact sciences, with a view to setting up an “Uzbekistan sci-ence”, celebrated in July 2005 at a great two-day conference at the presidium of the Academy of Science at Tashkent. In social science, this “national science” consists in an overall revision of previous results, often ending up in abrupt inversions, with posi-tive assessments becoming negative, and vice versa. Thus the former “cruel tyrant” Timur has now become the founding hero of the nation, and the ‘bosmachi’, formerly reactionaries waging an armed struggle against the Bolshevik revolution, are now seen as an avant-garde of freedom fighters. Methodically, in all fields, the prior existence of the Uzbek nation, state and civilisation have had to be promoted. The onto-logical proof was posited on origins as remote as possible, giving pre-eminence to ethnonymic and toponymic research. History [Laruelle 2005; 2004a, 2004b], archaeology and ethnology were intertwined in a new alliance, and were given pride of place in legitimising Uzbek identity and the Uzbek state politically. This arduous task was entrusted to an army of research workers: dimin-utive but tireless ideological activists. Researchers’ standards of liv-ing have been declining regularly. Like those of everybody else in Uzbekistan – with the exception of the political galaxy which, though also subject to relatively unstable conditions, can make up for this by using its governmental functions to appropriate what wealth is available. The decline has been accentuated by the switch to the tender system. Competition here is very stiff; the winner can-not hope to earn more than the equivalent of $20 per month on average, for a period ranging from six months to three years. In a context such as this, it is difficult to assimilate intellectual ability to capital that can be sold or exchanged on a market – especially as the market in question does not even exist. The logic of action and mobilisation is linked to other types of investment, that have to be interpreted in terms of the transmission and incorporation of dom-ination, and of the linking of symbolic authority figures in syn-chronic and diachronic modes. The ideological conversion of indi-vidual actors – from the dogmatic magma of the Soviet era, full of convolutions, contradictions and convulsions, varying from phase to phase, to the vertiginous new doctrine that propounds the meta-physics of a fantasised independence – clearly takes the form of a mask hiding the very real problems implicit in the transformations that are at stake. The intellectual life of the research community appears to be relatively intense. There are numerous collective events. Internal meetings in the institutes are attended by crowds seeking momen-tary relief from the daily grind of hunting for groceries in under-stocked “bazaars”. Symposiums commemorate brilliant scholars of the past, ignored by the Soviets and seen now as victims, pre-cursors of the Uzbek essence. To these must be added the intermi-nable ritual examinations of doctoral candidates in science for the equivalent of the Anglo-American PhD and for those of the German habilitation and the now-defunct French doctorat d’etat. There are also national and international conferences. At all of these events, and in particular at the doctoral orals, discussion is lively – and sometimes even bitter – with spontaneous jousting, vigorous and sometimes untimely appeals; the chairman has to struggle to keep order. Attendance is voluntary at these often theatrical perform-ances. The oldest dignitaries of the Soviet era are usually there, still vigorous well into their 80s, and bearing with fortitude the stifling summer heat in the old concrete academic buildings. Pensioners are there in large numbers (on a half-pension, one is allowed to draw an additional salary – an appreciable concession). Not that young and middle-aged researchers are under-represented in these assemblies; they too are there. Discussion, though confined within clearly set limits, reaches remarkable heights of rhetoric, despite the fact that the Uzbek language now obligatorily replaces Russian in academic communi-cations. This rule makes things difficult for everyone, not only as
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200851regards pronunciation but also conceptual formulation; the recent switch from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet has made it no easier – and it is also proving difficult to apply. Long hours can be spent discussing, e g, the differences between the national idea and national ideology in a context of “ethnic pluralism”. In theory this pluralism must be preserved, though in fact no position of any import is ever awarded to a non-Uzbek; national minorities (Tatars, Russians, Kazaks, Armenians, etc) are becoming increasingly rare in the tiny universe of this “servile labour“ in the field of ideology – a labour force clearly destined to become ethnically and culturally homogeneous. The entire landscape, as we have already men-tioned, is no longer linked to the past that was proud of the “inter-national” (a Soviet-style adjective) atmosphere of the capital city, the “city of bread” in the “sun-washed republic” that was renowned for its hospitality. The observer cannot but be impressed by the activity – the activism – of most of the population, the desire for public recognition and the apparent seriousness of the arguments. A few words on the research carried out in 2004 and 2005 are needed to complete this overall sketch. Our study of researchers in social science was made at length at the Academy of Science at Tashkent and, more briefly at its very much smaller branch at Nukus, capital of the autonomous republic of Karalpakistan, which is part of Uzbekistan. Archaeology, history and ethnology, crowned by philosophy, still hegemonic in ideological matters, were the main fields we looked into, at two institutes in Tashkent, and also at the university. Thanks to the sociology department (abolished shortly after independence) of the Academy of Science, and in particular to its more eminent members, who by 2004 had all moved into non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that they had set up and in which they played major roles – I was able to get a concrete idea of the prospects – ideologised with the development of globalisation, of the research personnel [Hours 2005]. Spread over two years, my penetration into social science circles was halted in May 2005 by the repression of the demon-strations in Andijan , which resulted (according to different esti-mates) between 500 and 1,000 deaths. This political develop-ment broke off our investigation. Interviewees felt obliged to take a stance for the benefit of the visiting ethnologist. This closed the official doors of many institutions, but at the same time “ana-lysed” them very helpfully. It was only in 2005 that I studied research workers in “hard” science, in an institute that had been highly renowned in the Soviet era, when it was the only one of its sort in theUSSR, its staff of 600 serving all the republics of the Union. Today it has retained its specificity, but consists for the most part only of pharmacists, chemists, and biologists. I also went into another institute, a good deal smaller and more spe-cialised, but finally opted for a methodical study of those mem-bers of the research personnel who had remained in friendly con-tact after their quasi-departure from what had formerly been a leading-edge institution. All in all, I was able to carry out some 200 interviews. To these should be added observations made in the course of my relatively complete immersion in the two insti-tutes I selected and the close relationships I was able to build up with people of all sorts and of all generations, some of whom had held or were still holding important posts, while others had remained at more modest levels. I was invited to collective events that proved instructive, and I was sometimes asked to play a minor part (giving a lecture on French anthropology).All of this took place during a period when the country was being closed to foreigners; this made it all the more significant. In 2005, US was asked to close down its military base; this broke off an alliance that had until then been fundamental for the preserva-tion of dictatorial government. The regime’s propaganda against “destabilising foreign forces” gradually invaded the media, becom-ing more and more obsessive, the operators constructing the posi-tion assigned to the foreign ethnologist as a symptom of their own mode of insertion into social relationships. 2 Work We now turn to the field of work. What can be learned about it from an anthropological investigation conducted under the condi-tions we have just described? To start with, there is a paradox. While the very notion of work is being dissolved as very different activities are added to it, the central task remains in the eyes of all a source of enormous prestige. Neither the disappearance of past excellence, nor the contempt and disgust inspired by current work-ing conditions – a job on a construction site pays at least five times as much as scientific research [Bazin 2005; Bazin, Hours and Selim 2005] – affect the minimum of submission required by the state. Ideological missions are carried out earnestly, contradictory orders are taken seriously, available skills are applied intently. The set of characteristic attitudes of workers in scientific research illustrates the value attributed to work. Work is still held to be sacred, even though this may seem absurd. With generalised decline blurring the very ideas of social class and of membership of a now-defunct hierarchy, to suggest that a ruined status or identity could still motivate “work” is to set up an illusory rationality. The collectives, far from bolstering the identity of these men and women whose intellectual training, though marked by Soviet ideology, has pro-duced undeniable cognitive abilities, show up their lack of clear-cut identity. Furthermore, the ideological inversions to which these people are expected to adapt impinge on their ideas (or rather on their belief in ideas) – yet without eradicating their hypothetical convictions, as an outside view might lead one to imagine. The paradox of real work that lacks the economic characteris-tics of work blurs the very idea of work. To dissipate this fog, one has no doubt to listen to the people concerned as they speak of unbending loyalty to the organisations and entities to which they are attached, both literally and figuratively; one has to try, together with them, to articulate what they describe as an inex-tricable interior feeling. For them, “loyalty” to the state echoes “loyalty” to the people who incarnate it. An indistinct echo, admittedly, but it nonetheless enhances the individual’s self-esteem when he is confronted with behaviour that, in a different cultural and political context (eg, in neo-communist Vietnam), and in a different social position, would be seen in a negative light, as mere customary submission, a hereditary attitude. A “loyalty” of this sort evacuates all intrinsic meaning from the ideological content; emptying it of its humdrum homogeneous orientations, it replaces these with a sort of self-rehabilitation in the name of submission to authority in qua authority. It could be argued that what is at stake here is the prolongation, into the new
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly52era of independence, of the old Soviet relationships moulded by state domination. In a peripheral republic such as Uzbekistan, however, this cannot be represented with any finesse unless one takes into account the nostalgia with which the people concerned look on their own past. Today, in descriptions of this past, what is foregrounded is the total security it ensured – economic security, social security, political security – guaranteeing the individual’s own future and that of his dependants. Nostalgia can lead inter-viewees to name the Moscow street where their student hostel was located, their ‘gap’ – the traditionally male Uzbek groups that form in communities based on study, work or residence, and that meet regularly for a meal to which everyone brings a contribution. Women are now joining gaps, but these are still supervised by the men of the family, financing meals, and sometimes the restaurant. Interpersonal RelationshipsAt present, in contrast, no such dreams are possible. The future is increasingly uncertain. In the reconstructed past, the habitus of loyal attachment, in exchange for assistance, to what is still called the “centre” seems to have been a coherent relationship. Then the “centre” was a political entity of uncontested supremacy. Now, the state gives nothing whatever in exchange for loyalty, leaving each and everyone the hazards and tender mercies of interper-sonal dependency. As a result, the unremitting efforts of Uzbekistan’s researchers show up the brutal effectiveness of imaginings in the field of work. In this respect, however, “hard” science diverges from social science. In social science, interper-sonal competition is very fierce: e g, some researchers refuse to pass on to colleagues information obtained from foreign sources. Recently the more exclusive institutes have funnelled all incom-ing and outgoing email messages through single addresses; mes-sages can be read by certain staff members, but only in excep-tional cases by all. At the Nukus Science Academy, however, eve-ryone has his or her own email address. There is considerable rivalry between researchers for access to resources – especially foreign resources – such as conferences, bursaries, calls for tenders, and to publication that – despite increasingly invasive censorship – serves to focus the pride of the researchers. In the “hard” sciences, on the other hand, where thinking is based on laboratory experimentation involving teams and adequate equipment, the current situation is so dramatic that it gives rise to mutual help and to a solidarity that reaches beyond the particular institutes involved. Former “cutting edge” laborato-ries that were over-equipped during the 1980s, unable to upgrade their equipment, are now in a deplorable state. At present it is only here and there that researchers have state-of-the-art apparatus, measuring up to international standards. In the institutes fortu-nate enough to have this, researchers put it at the disposal of col-leagues in other institutes so that they can carry on with their experiments. Ingenuity and improvisation make up to some extent for the general scarcity. This pursuit of proper scientific practice in the face of appalling adversity is nothing less than admirable. Investment in work depends on another crucial factor: women and the organisation of marriage. To understand the relationship between these structures and work, they have to be seen in an anthropological perspective covering all social fields and bringing out the links between them. In general, since independ-ence the state has pursued a dual aim: it has ethnicised society for the benefit of citizens of Uzbek descent, who are now increas-ingly dominant, and at the same time re-traditionalised social relationships. This was done in defence and illustration of a puta-tive Uzbek essence that had been “crushed” by “russification“ during the Soviet era. Responses to this ideology exalting ethnic origins show up the economic stakes involved. Endogamy has increased; the age of marriage, which the USSR had pushed upwards, has declined. The primacy of parental initiative in the choice of marriage partners has been canonised as an untoucha-ble cultural norm, and made even more intimidating than before. In a parallel development, government has consolidated its control of the ‘mahalla’ (neighbourhood) committees, which come under the authority of councils of ‘aksakal’ (elders), all of whom are now directly appointed. “Cultural” constraints have thus been insti-tutionalised politically, legitimising gossip and rumour, which now function as moral police. One of the more notable results is that divorce is now practically forbidden, as it damages the image of the neighbourhood and its ranking notabilities. With the less-educated parts of the population, the single word ‘o’zbekchilik’ suffices to put these matrimonial behaviour patterns into histori-cal perspective and to explain them.1 Researchers will discuss them with the investigating anthropologist, reflecting on their genealogies and often bringing photos of their parents and parents-in-law to illustrate life in “the good old days”.We note briefly that possession of a capital of knowledge characterises the lineage of Uzbek researchers. In the early 20th century – as in all Muslim countries – this capital was placed under the aegis of Islam, not only in the case of men but also in that of women who were ‘otin’ [Asimova 2004, 1997; Faithi 2004b], i e, “instructresses” in religion. Knowledge of this sort was compatible with a manual occupation and membership of the party, both of which opened on to another world, illumi-nated by the idea of social and economic “progress”. In the mid-20th century, the first researchers from Uzbekistan rapidly scaled the hierarchy to occupy positions in the Tashkent acad-emy of science; preference was given to those of Uzbek origin, though policies of “Uzbekistanisation” and “Uzbekisation” varied from one moment to another of the Soviet period. In the genera-tion which is now in its 80s, in social science everybody held a party card. In “hard” science, on the other hand, the obligation to belong to the party was apparently not as strong, and came into play only in assigning positions of responsibility in the insti-tutes. According to researchers, the Soviet state took fundamen-tal research very seriously indeed – far more than applied science – and promotion was based on scientific worth alone.Male SupremacyMatrimonial logics formed – from a methodological point of view – an important part of our conversations. Our conversations on this subject revealed that an identity trap had closed on the researchers, as on the rest of the population. For the generation aged 50 and over, the spouse was chosen according to the pattern which had prevailed for their ascendants, who had sometimes had to struggle to resist their own parents’ wishes. Marriage, for
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200853these age-groups, in the case of both men and women, had been postponed until their education had been completed. Many nar-ratives of their student life in Moscow feature a Russian family watching over the education of the young Uzbek, who repays it with lifelong gratitude, both affective and intellectual. This par-ticular pattern is emblematic of a process experienced as “civilis-ing”, linking an “advanced” centre to a “retarded” periphery, the object of positive, enlightened domination that combines protec-tion and promotion of the dominated. This same generation, in which women pursued the process of emancipation started by their mothers – beginning with the ‘paranji’ fire lit by Stalin on the mosque square in Samarkand to launch the ‘hujum’ [Tokhta-khodjaeva 1995; Tokhtakhodjaera and Thikumbekora 1996] the (offensive) – is now organising its own children’s marriages in authoritarian style, and making them marry as early as possible. They are projecting their economic anxiety as to the morrow and the future as a whole on to the destiny of the children; this destiny, they feel, has to be sealed as soon as possible, as though it were an urgent duty to be discharged. Though it may entail many sacrifices, in today’s uncertain world it nonetheless guarantees that one will enjoy a minimum of egotis-tical dignity at the end of one’s life. Otherwise one might end up like those elderly ragged Russians who have been abandoned by their families and now haunt markets, begging for a few coins and scratching for food in the garbage of the vast collective estates that formerly housed workers and management. The price of this quasi-vital guarantee is submission, with girls being sent into their hus-bands’ families as to act as servants and be exploited at will, no matter how educated they may be, and irrespectively of the intel-lectual status of their parents and parents-in-law. These young women find all doors closing on them today when they attempt to slip out of the trap. Male supremacy, which had come under attack from the ideological apparatus of the Soviet state, has now been naturalised again, taking on the moral obviousness of an Uzbek specificity. The state-controlled television drums into viewers the uniqueness of the ‘o’zbekchilik’, with its radiant ‘mahalla’ and the beaming faces of its aksakal. Forced labour, extracted free of charge from daughters-in-law, is thought of as non-marketable, because of the closure of the family to all outside persons; it therefore has no objective value. This erosion of work is just one of the various ways in which a global exit from the market sets in. Our interviewees (belonging to a social stratum unaccustomed to having their work investigated) jokingly described the juncture as a medieval regres-sion. As if under a microscope, the structure of links between the different spheres of everyday insertion stood out – and in particu-lar the remodelled links between political and private life. As else-where, women form a hinge, both symbolic and real, articulating economic oppression and the reformatting of the family, in which they are put in charge – with no return, so to speak – of the shrunken and thankless function of policing local norms.3 PoliticsThe sharp political break between the Soviet era, with its partic-ular type of welfare state and independence, increases the perti-nence of the approach we have adopted. We will pursue it, exam-ining briefly the nature of the independent Uzbek state and comparing it with other dictatorial regimes and in particular with their effects on the interior world of the people involved. After almost 15 years of independence, the government led by Islam Karimov has acquired many of the traits typical of numer-ous peripheral countries. These are personalisation of power – excessive, and increasingly so; monopolisation of resources for the benefit of a small circle gravitating around the head of state; privatisation of interests; generalisation of the political police and of surveillance; and impoverishment of the population. This set-up in its entirety is camouflaged as a multiparty system that in fact is no more than a fiction created by simply cloning the party in power. As in all Muslim countries, the government has focused its fear on Islamic movements; these might conceivably gain the support of the masses that have been left in increasing misery and now can hope for no salvation other than divine. Thanks to an alliance with the USA in their worldwide struggle against terrorism, all political opposition had been eradicated; but in May 2005 this policy abruptly came to the end of the line. When business leaders were arrested at Andijan and accused of belong-ing to a minor group of Islamic extremists, it triggered off extensive demonstrations. These were repressed with violence. Caught in a trap, men, women and children were simply slaughtered. The gov-ernment refused to permit an international investigation, respond-ing to demands for one by appointing its own investigating com-mittee with, as sole “international” representative, the ambassador of Turkmenistan – a parody of impartiality. Announcing at the same time that it had expelled the US military, the government found its leeway drastically reduced and was forced to follow an increas-ingly narrow path. By now the economy was bloodless. The author-ities seemed autistic. Dropping its “democratic” mask, and ready to sacrifice even more lives than at Andijan, the government asserted itself in what – to go by the messages it sent out to the population – could be termed a triumphal mode. The main specificity of the regime is an “ideological obsession” that became only too evident in the course of these tragic events. A book by “our president”, sometimes still even referred to as “our father” was promptly put out in Uzbek and in Russian, adding to the mass of the leader’s theoretical publications. Television and the press went over the events every day, showing the guilty confessing their crimes, admit-ting having been manipulated by foreign powers; contrite parents disowned their offspring. Forums of young people – duly selected and brought in by bus from university hostels – were organised everywhere to celebrate the “victory” of Andijan, chanting slogans that proclaimed for all time the Uzbek nation’s proud refusal to bow to outside pressure. In their institutes, researchers were invited – as they had already been invited at the congress of “national science” – to denounce traitors who had been suborned by foreign powers to destabilise the nation, as in Kyrgyzistan and Georgia. They were also called on to report people who misused the internet – that weapon of mass destruction that should be restricted and controlled in all parts of the world. Researchers crowded in these sessions to hear the speakers, who were generally elderly, and in many cases had been trained as philosophers and were well versed in the rhetoric of propaganda. All were urged to support the government and to spread the information imparted to them to their families, mahalla, and
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly54neighbours. The ideological “firepower” thus generated was sim-ply obscene. Television staged as an edifying spectacle the humil-iation of the persons summoned to testify; the authorities were determined to abase them. In the course of these psycho-political exercises, aimed no doubt at instilling unconscious terror, a line was crossed. In 2004 fear of the state had often remained hidden – except in the case of a few researchers who mistook their visit-ing anthropologist for an emissary to the outside world whom they implored to do something – anything – to save their country. In 2005, the situation was very different. Interviewees felt obliged to take a stance on one side or the other of the symbolical line that the government had drawn in the sand. Anyone who showed any sign of dissidence was under explicit threat. Fears were expressed. But any verbalisation of fear had the effect of making the strength of the head of state seem even more invincible. He was now referred to only in the third person; his will to power was perceived as irresistible, blighting in the bud the slightest desire to resist; resistance was pointless; it would now be crushed with even less pity and restraint than in the past. The research-ers’ discourses veered towards fantasy, the head of state becom-ing demonic, evil incarnate. This new fear was expressed tenta-tively in family stories of arbitrary arrest and disappearance associated with the legendary figure of Stalin. Hypertrophied PowerThe comparison with Stalin was usually intended to suggest that the current period was even more terrifying. In people’s minds, independence did away with any possibility of playing against one another the different seats of political power; one could no longer appeal from the periphery and the centre, from local party organi-sations at the base level to the summit in Moscow. In old phone-books that one can still find in the institutes, the direct lines of party representatives are listed next to those of the directors, ena-bling subalterns to address complaints and claims to Moscow. The supreme authorities would sometimes overturn the decisions of their local representatives. With the current type of fear, the defenceless individual finds himself face to face with hypertro-phied power, its malevolence irresistible. There is no mediation whatsoever. In other dictatorial regimes configurations are differ-ent. In Laos, the communist regime found itself facing genies, who represented an imaginary counterpoise, providing durable protec-tion, on condition that sincere offerings were placed on the proper altars. In Bangladesh in the 1980s and 1990s, the situation was marked by exalted antonyms: liberation and collaboration; in their name people would have one another slaughtered by hired killers. The military dictatorship of general Ershad, former ally of “colonialist” Pakistan, exhibited another way in which power was neutralised. In Vietnam “market socialism” sanctifies Ho Chi Minh, putatively to help re-establish links with the people who died in the wars of the past and to serve as a guide preserving the country from the greed and corruption of the authorities of the party-state, with their disdain for the common people. In Uzbekistan, since the Andijan massacre, there is neither a political space nor a positive imaginary figure to inspire collective belief. This leaves the field open to the propaganda of terror; deprived of recourse to a symbolical mediator, people receive and refract this directly. There is no escape. Everyone is trapped in lethal confrontation. Confidential conversation with a foreigner is now something so desirable that it is dangerous, exposure to the authorities’ omnipresent eavesdropping. Researchers seemed to listen attentively to the political lectures to which they were sub-jected in assemblies that they attended simply to avoid attracting the attention of government spies. They refused even more than usual to watch Uzbek television, to read the national dailies. They tried to get news from Moscow, but all international channels were being jammed, including the Russian ones. The sense of being alone, and of having been abandoned, emerged clearly in the course of our tense conversations, which the interviewees experi-enced as acts of individual intrepidity. At Andijan, the public build-ings destroyed during the riots were not rebuilt because no work-ers made themselves available. In the outskirts of the city, municipal employees refused to clean up the sombre traces of the tragic events, and kept company with the dead who were still screaming.24 Knowledge, Ideology and MethodIn a juncture of this sort, researchers are destined to form part of a service collective with a cognitive function. This raises the issue of the relationship between science, ideology and knowledge: what does this relationship imply, and how does it fit into the ongoing globalisation process? Uzbekistan is inordinate, and monstrously so, in this as in other fields. This makes it necessary to re-examine the contradictory processes that go into the forma-tion of global norms in this field. On the one hand knowledge – hypostasised in purified form by increasingly sophisticated tech-niques, constituting an architectonic model of objectivity – stands out as a fundamental element at the core of the ideologies that accompany the expansion of capitalism. The myth of a society in which knowledge would be properly distributed and shared [Hernandez 2005; Schinn and Ragouet 2005] illustrates this orientation. It also illustrates another orientation, based on a hypothetically cognitive capitalism that finds in the new deals of knowledge a basic break in the transformation of capitalism. On the other hand, at present the very notion of ideology is gradually being emptied of its content; it is being replaced by another that is applicable to any institution and social field, from the summit of the system to the individual at its base, who has to manage his abilities, his unconscious and his desires by applying exclusively the very same rules as those applying to merchandise.Publicly funded research – eg, in France – is thus being strongly influenced by this extension of managerial thinking. The watchword “cost-cutting” soon effaces the need for substantive thought in the specific field identifying a research institute, whose middle-echelon research staff – such as departmental heads (to use the official term) – now describe themselves as “cadres of the enterprise” – to gain the confidence of their top management. As a corollary, inter-ministerial calls for tenders in most cases appeal to researchers to mobilise their skills in order to enhance the profitability of government measures, in particu-lar in healthcare management and services to the handicapped and the indigent. Reading the texts of the calls for tenders issued by the French inter-ministerial agency is highly instructive in this respect; the themes suggested for reflection seem so narrow and
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200855so technico-social, subject to a cost economy as untouchable as it is tacit, inhibiting all thinking of a more general nature on the central mechanisms of contemporary society. This can also be seen in international calls for tenders: task management occupies the major part of the online form.On another level, there would be little novelty in drawing attention to the fact that a set of norms is always implied in indi-vidual scientific work, but that this does not necessarily mean that the scientist is in bad faith. Progress has faded out; current prejudice favours such entities as “nature”, “democracy”, “rights”, etc; yet other trends, varying from one moment to the next, crys-tallise around the notion of otherness and its politico-religious menace, the antithesis of “rationality” and ”civilisation”. Seen from this angle, researchers in Uzbekistan, condemned to ideo-logical servitude and ethnic essentialism, seem to be very far away from us indeed, trapped in an agglomerate of obsolete resi-dues dating from various periods: nationalist exaltation of cul-tural difference, absolutism of state commands, belief in an inde-pendent ideology in favour of independence, devotion to the cause of a legitimating authority – the whole outmoded and “exotic”, in the disparaging sense of this term. But why even study agents so remote from global norms? For two types of reason. One is to gain an inside understanding of the modes of produc-tion and reproduction of social groups based on individual and collective subordination, with the burden of psychic investment entailed by the latter. The other reason for study of this sort is to distance oneself from ingrained scientific habits. What we uncover here is the same functioning of society as elsewhere, but hidden by regulatory mechanisms that in contexts to which we (in the centre of the system) are accustomed seem “self-evident”. These situations deviate radically from global norms and their symbolical and political functioning in the context of a globalisa-tion process that puts itself across both as an imperial conquest and as the democratic advance of capitalism. The Uzbek research-ers, so far from our world of today, force the anthropologist who plunges into their world, that holds them captive, to distance himself epistemologically from his previous scientific habits and to reflect on his own methodological apparatus, which is sorely tried by circumstances such as these. Unexpected EffectsComplete ignorance of anthropology outside the USSR, and in particular of its central feature, the personal interview, had some unexpected effects. In the work I did in 2004 on social science institutes, I carried out my investigation without the interviewees realising (with the exception of a researcher who knew English well and, in a strategic position, gave me decisive help) that it was part of a scientific study. In 2005, on the other hand, in “hard” science, once the ethnological method had been explained to the researchers, they accepted it without hesitation and col-laborated openly, with remarkable honesty. This lasted until one memorable morning a few weeks after the Andijan massacre, when the security services stopped me physically at the door of the institute and adamantly refused to let me in. The dismay in the eyes of my main allies spoke volumes about the force of the official order and the barriers it set up around both disarmed individuals and institutional collectives. The resignation of my erstwhile interviewees, the dispirited meal to which they invited me in a “datcha”, and their powerless silence all confirmed this painful impression. It was a lesson in sociology – in vivo – clarify-ing retrospectively a lot of discourse and many patterns of behav-iour. Heads of research institutes were vying with one another in ideological zeal, avoiding all risk of undue complaisance towards a foreign intruder. A charge of this sort could result in dismissal.Apart from this, there was also another element that structured the ethnological investigation: the indigenous assistant accompa-nying the anthropologist. This third party supports the enterprise, clarifies it in the eyes of the subjects being investigated, and inter-prets what they say. For him it is an adventure, an exploration of his own society. The anthropologist takes him into sectors that he would not be able to enter on his own and confronts him with other social strata, bringing about a disruption of his inner self and changing his vision of society. Here too, the neutralisation of hier-archical differences is one of the forces driving the investigation: in the eyes of the interviewees, the symbolic equality between inter-preter and anthropologist has an exemplary value. Symbiosis of anthropologist and interpreter (not to be confused with the “native informer” of colonial ethnology) is absolutely indispensable. The unusual combination of two facets, one endogenous and the other exogenous, generally suffices to overcome resistance – and particu-larly resistance that takes as a pretext cultural distance, represent-ing it as an impenetrable barrier to outside understanding. This configuration is simplified or complicated by the way in which endogenous “otherness” is produced and given a positive or nega-tive valence. In Bangladesh, Laos and Vietnam, for example, there are ethnic minorities that incarnate the figure of the foreigner who, though close, is not part of their civilisation. In Uzbekistan the situ-ation is a good deal more complex, and always had been tricky, even before the demise of the USSR.The Nationalities Question The revolution had to deal with the “national question”; to the bitter end this was to remain a central problem for the Soviet state [D’Encausse 1978]. The creation of “nationalities” kept conflicts alive by institutionalising a logic of origins, mentioning on passports ethnic origin in addition to political citizenship of a republic com-posed of national majorities and minorities. Following the demise of the USSR, Uzbekistan renewed this policy of “nationalities”, and the same time veered off on another ideological tangent, adopting a doctrine of ethnic pluralism and sponsoring numerous doctoral theses on the subject. The main issue at stake was to find a way of conciliating the glorification of the Uzbek essence with equality in the treatment of the non-Uzbek components of the population. The independence of the republics of the former Union after 1991 led to migratory flows that are still going on today, modifying balances that had formerly been achieved at considerable cost. For-merly, Russian-medium education – Uzbek families often put their children into these paths – had had the same standing as Uzbek-medium schools; today Russian-medium schools are increasingly rare. Exogenous population groups (e g, Russian, German, Armenian, Korean) were among the first to leave the country. Today, use of the Uzbek language is being promoted by an injunction of the
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly56independent state. Little by little, a conceptual dichotomy has been established between speakers of Russian – whether ethnically Uzbek or non-Uzbek – and speakers of Uzbek. Aimed at the promo-tion of Uzbeks who do not speak Russian, the old distinction between Europeans and orientals has thus taken on a new meaning, setting up a new hierarchy of groupings. Application of the adjec-tives “oriental” and “European” is of course linked to the applier, to his position, actual or desired, and to his possible attempts to reclassify himself. It reveals the identity of the agent in question, his difficulties and his avoidance of exclusion. Housing estates that Uzbek citizens of Russian origin have left to go to Moscow are now inhabited principally by ethnic Uzbeks who have moved in from rural areas. Such places crystallise depreciative divisions. Interplay of these images affected the way in which the survey was set up. It produced surprising variations, stimulating the development of interpretative hypotheses. My collaborator came from an educated family of Uzbek origin; he had been educated in Uzbek-medium, but spoke perfect Russian (this was obligatory in higher education during the Soviet era). Now professor of French at the university, nearing 60, austere, cultivated, he gradu-ally became less reserved and took our survey to heart. Mutual confidence, respect and friendship grew between us. Together, we went through numberless interpretative exercises, moving back and forth between what the interviewees had told us and my collaborator’s own life and experience, that he distanced and objectified. This friendly matrix of shared reflection grew up first and foremost in the institutes of social science. These were posi-tioned on the “oriental” side of Uzbek culture – a trump card for researchers who were expected to legitimise the Uzbek “essence”. Interviewees were delighted when they found that my associate spoke Uzbek; his “inside” view led them to speak freely of the paths they had followed in marriage and in research. I thus found myself involved in an almost exclusively Uzbek con-text, as few researchers of different origins (Russian and Korean) were still there. In all science, Russian is nonetheless usually the preferred language. In the “hard” sciences, however – where the “nationalisation” of knowledge was seen simply as deplorable gov-ernment foolishness – aspiration to universality tended to efface distinctions of origin. There were more non-Uzbeks than in social science, and relationships were based on both personal inclination and shared scientific objectives. Russian was seen as the language of scientific dignity, and there seemed to be little speculation on the subject of our duo; questions were asked only when we had got on to familiar terms. There came a third phase, in this case also, fol-lowing the repression of the Andijan demonstrations: we noticed with amusement that the governmental obsession with foreign agents focused on my associate, who was repeatedly identified as French, his knowledge of Uzbek merely deepening suspicion; I was seen as the interpreter. Representations of the investigation evolved as interviewees internalised political diktats, fluctuating between two polar opposites: incorporating us into an “in-group” or expelling the negative foreigner.The Micro-Unit of StudyThe situation was thus a totalised one, traversed by affects and thrusts in the social fields of class, of difference, of politics, of work and of cognitive discovery, that borderline area in which tomorrow is always uncertain. This leads us back to another central aspect of the ethnological method: the micro-unit of study. We should remember that in this respect the central epistemological principle is immersion of the anthropologist in a group. It is through his position as a mirror and through the social transfers that converge on him, that social relationships can gradually be revealed. Research on migration has been amplified in recent decades by the difficulties into which the political management of the ethnicised pauperisation of the lower strata of society has run. This has already influenced the principle of immersion; the idea of multi-site investigations has emerged to adapt to groups in movement and to the plurality of territories on which their identity has come to be based. In the case of Uzbekistan, two factors have led anthro-pology to move ahead by agglomerating different sites of enquiry. The first of these is the unavoidable political constraint that we have already mentioned. The second is the fact that it is difficult to recognise in the science academy as a whole an authentic social group with the clear-cut characteristics ethnology can deal with. The generalisation of work-contracts (replacing permanent tenure), and the inadequacy of remuneration (aggravated by peri-odical non-payment), have weakened institutional links, which are now intrinsically precarious, and have impaired social rela-tionships. Today the researcher is a taxi-driver at six in the morn-ing, a stallholder at the market a few hours later, and an electri-cian in the evening; he gets most of his earnings from other sources than his institute. Yet he remains deeply attached to this institute and goes about his work wholeheartedly. Birthday parties and anniversary lunches are frequently impro-vised in the research laboratories, bringing back researchers whose links with the institute have momentarily weakened and those who now work elsewhere. Encouraged by the early Soviet state as a sub-stitute for religious celebrations, these meals, which sometimes last well into the afternoon, have become a sort of tradition. Food is abundant and varied, washed down with vodka, wine and home-made spirits. When heads of institutes are invited, the atmosphere is more subdued. But in all cases a symbolic social group puts itself on stage, symptomatically turning towards a past that is enhanced by nostalgia: a time when everyone went to work every day and stayed there for eight full hours, proud of his scientific status and economic ease. Today, social science researchers go to the academy only once a week (and often not even for a full day). In “hard” sci-ence they go every day for a few hours if management is likely to check attendance. To survive, everybody has to have an extra job. Things crumble and fall apart; the ethnologist’s classic object of study – the social micro-unit formed on the basis of work – is losing its clarity and pertinence. I attempted to adjust to this by going into several small institutes and also by trying to recompose micro-units with researchers who had formerly worked in the same laborato-ries. Thanks to friendships formed with some of them, I attempted to make out, in the look in their eyes and in their remarks, the dynamics of the institute with which I had formerly been familiar.By its very nature, each terrain forces the ethnologist to adopt a specific mode of apprehension. It is important for us to think about this col-lectively – all the more since the globalisation of capitalism and of information technologies has now exploded, once and for all, that
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200857mythical object of ethnographic study: thesmall community of shared knowledge, enclosed within its own boundaries, with its own time, place, production and reproduction. At the same time, we should revisit the idea of commitment to scientific work itself. Belonging to a nation seems already to be a thing of the past – a recent past, admittedly, but one that has clearly been superseded by incorporation into supranational entities. These entities are based on politico-economic reasoning; they have been unified by defensive and offensive force, in opposi-tion to groups denoted as outside. A vision of this sort hardly inspires much intellectual enthusiasm, especially when one thinks of the cultural fantasies that accompany it. In the current glo-balised situation, the anthropologist, in deconstructing the modes of production of identities and their accompanying delirium – vapours rising throughout the world, virtually everywhere from India to Uzbekistan via the French suburbs – inevitably finds him-self increasingly distanced from all identification, whether unique or plural, because of its factitious, arbitrary and largely prefabri-cated nature. Engagement in research has become pretty problem-atic. There remains nonetheless the commitment of the researcher, which is still available as an epistemological tool. Two risks, how-ever, tend to limit the effectiveness of tools of this sort. One is the unlimited narcissism of the author and his networks; various soci-ological schools of institutional analysis have not really succeeded in avoiding this risk. The other is the limit embodied in a narrow conception of the social agent, restricting analysis of the logic of subjectivation involved in ethnological investigation and critical appraisal. The rigidity of disciplinary divisions, and internal com-petition in social fields [Bourdieu 2001] both strongly influence epistemological reticence and withdrawal. It is no longer fashion-able, as it was from the 1950s to the 1970s, to promote interpene-trating rationales of interpretation. On the contrary, competencies and their fields of application haveshrunk.5 A PortraitI will end these remarks on my most problematic terrain with a brief portrait of a researcher, to complete my sketch of the broken circle of reflexivity. I will call him Ivan, an historian of more than 60, whom I met for the first time in spring 2004 in the social science institute where I was attempting immersion. The institute takes up a floor in one of the many buildings on the spacious scientific cam-pus on the outskirts of the city. A big tower block, modernistic in its time (the 1950s-1960s), with long corridors and large plate-glass windows, it gets stiflingly hot from the very beginning of summer. On another floor there is the institute of philosophy, headed at the time by a go-ahead young man, formerly close to the state “presi-dential apparatus”, to which he acted as advisor, subsequently moving on to a higher position. On the ground floor is the canteen, which had been taken over by a researcher, member of the team heading the academy of social science. Now a small private restau-rant, it served good healthy food at very reasonable prices. Researchers would meet there for lunch on their weekly working day; its welcoming atmosphere helped my investigation.At a desk near a window in a common office space, Ivan spoke precisely but precipitately, as though he were afraid we would run out of time. Spontaneously, he described working conditions at the institute, immediately pointing out to me the ideological constraints that censured his writing. The institute had been commissioned by the government to write a new history of Uzbekistan, from the origins in prehistory to the present day, as a tribute to Uzbek genius. Teams had been formed to undertake this herculean task of historical revision. Work had started; the first volume had come out, and some 15 more were to follow. The teams were composed of archaeologists, historians, ethnogra-phers and also (to use the names of the various departments making up the institute) experts specialising in Uzbek independ-ence, in the Uzbek state, in the colonial and Soviet periods. This inclusion of the Soviet in the colonial era raised some intellectual problems; in private conversations, away from prying eyes, researchers would tell me how repugnant they found it to think of the Soviet state as colonial. Beneath this disclosure lay an awareness of the personal debt of each for his own education and for the scientific status attained before independence.Existential AnguishIvan was the first to confess his existential anguish – not to speak of his more concrete fear of being simply gunned down in the street or disappearing without trace. Small in stature, he was of Russian origin, with steely blue eyes. Having lost his father at an early age, he had been educated in establishments reserved for “gifted children”. He had married, then divorced, and had no bio-logical offspring. Before 1991 he had held a teaching position in the advanced training school for the communist party cadres, and had been a member of the party’s science committee, enjoying authority and prestige. Now he was merely an ordinary researcher. On bad terms with the director of his institute, he had been more or less forced to resign. The director in question, an attractive his-torian of about 55, Uzbek in origin, was fearful of committing an ideological faux-pas for which she could be called to account. Ivan had undertaken an exhaustive critique of the Marxist-Leninist ide-ology he had formerly taught. This was at the same time a critique of his own identity, which was founded on an indestructible alle-giance to the Soviet state that had brought him boundless confi-dence in his own future – a future that he saw as inherently meet and just. Today he could not accept having to write, in highly spe-cialised fields, what in his eyes were clearly untruths. In the cur-rent juncture, however, every detail of history was important; it was difficult to assess the risk of provoking the state into terrible reprisals. Expressions could be fraught with hidden meaning, and new ones had constantly to be invented. The “great patriotic war”, for example, was now banned, and Ivan had ingeniously chosen “Soviet-German war” to replace it. An authority on the subject of this particular period, he had a reputation for excellence, and he had refused to make alterations that the director demanded. It was a question of honour and intellectual dignity. Eventually, how-ever, he had been forced to comply. Other factors had also come into play, confusing the whole issue.Ivan’s Russian origins put him in a subordinate position in the institute, making him increasingly vulnerable, like all non- Uzbeks, to the fierce internal competition. His competencies were exploited in both licit and illicit modes. With Russian as his mother tongue, and with his ability to argue rationally, he was continually
SPECIAL ARTICLEoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly58being asked to detect gross errors in the articles in the historical volumes that were being prepared; the articles were written in Russian, then translated into Uzbek in Cyrillic print, before even-tual publication in Latin script. In exchange for a monetary com-pensation that he needed in order to survive, like most researchers of non-Uzbek origin he would write theses, dissertations and résumés for students of Uzbek origin who could afford to pay him, realising that they themselves would be incapable of meeting the required standards. Ivan was thus a scientific mercenary, fully aware of what he was about. A female researcher of Uzbek origin apparently reported him to the director for doing paid work on the side. Called on to explain himself, Ivan clung doggedly to his defence of intellectual rigour. Eventually, deeply wounded and shamed, he was more or less forced out of the institute. Some of his colleagues still made use of his knowledge, but his articles no longer carried his signature; only Uzbek names appeared in print. Ivan thus had every reason to feel disaffected. When he spoke at conferences, he noted that he was treated without consideration; mortified, he had to face public attacks on his ideas by ambitious ethnic Uzbek researchers bent on having their talent recognised in the service of the great Uzbek cause. Ivan had increased the amount of lecturing he was doing in a university in Kazakhstan, on the Uzbek frontier, where many Uzbek researchers also lectured, as salaries were appreciably better than in Uzbekistan, even though in 2005 payments were made very late. With his meagre savings, Ivan had succeeded in buying for $2000 a 70 square metre apartment on the ground floor of a building in one of the lower-rated housing developments on the outskirts of Tashkent. He had work done on it, and it was now surprisingly stylish, with intermittent lighting in the bedroom, brightly coloured walls, a little kitchen with benches and a table in unvarnished wood. He lived there on his own, sometimes with a boy of Uzbek origin, whom he thinks of as his adopted son; he was paying for his education. On his floor there were only families of Uzbek origin, from rural areas; Ivan’s role was highly appreciated. Neighbouring housewives kept an eye on the work being done in his apartment, and would ask him for advice on personal matters and dealings with government offices. In particular they would ask him to check up on the legality of the official procedures that were constantly being applied to their building by one or another of the “comradeships” (a comradeship is a condominium manage-ment that took over when public housing was privatised). In 2005, the president of Uzbekistan denounced the scandalous corruption of these management committees that were using only 5 per cent of the maintenance money for actual upkeep, leaving collective facilities in a state of appalling neglect. Ivan was the spokesman for his neighbourhood unit, in which the atmosphere was friendly, almost like that of a village. He fought the local “comradeship” on behalf of all the inhabitants. Well integrated into this local society, he lived in an atmosphere of mutual confidence, at ease amidst smiling women in long dresses and colourful scarves, who took affectionate care of the now hardened old bachelor. From our very first meeting at the institute I was intrigued by Ivan, by his frankness and his blunt manner. I suggested that we meet again; he agreed immediately, inviting me to his home. The first time I went there, he had not yet properly woken up, in spite of having an appointment with me. After an evening of serious drinking, he had poured himself a small glass of vodka, supposedly to eliminate the hangover. A common local practice, this did not surprise me. But without further ado Ivan was none-theless ready to launch out into a sweeping survey of his past and present, political and individual. He took a radical view, explaining who he was, showing me his photograph album, featuring in par-ticular his stays in resorts to which only the intellectual elite of the USSR had had access; and study trips to eastern Europe, together with his wife and colleagues. The photographs showed the work collective and the marital couple, the two symmetrical poles of his individual identity. Both of these poles having col-lapsed, he now suffered from exposure, questioning the inti-mately articulated internal and external mechanisms that, after propelling him towards the summits of ideological domination, had left him in what he saw as shameful intellectual servitude. In Denial of RealityThese discussions took us several days. Starting at 10 in the morn-ing, we would take a break at one o’clock for a frugal lunch – kebab and bread – in one of the dusty eateries close to his housing estate. The three of us, my associate, Ivan and I, would sit around the tea-pot in the middle of his kitchen table. I would observe the two men – one on my left, the other opposite me. They belonged to the same generation; one was Uzbek in origin, the other Russian; I would try to relate them. They agreed in their vision of recent history, not only in politics, but also as regards their personal experience of their time. Regularly I would ask my collaborator to say what he thought of Ivan’s assertions. Soon communication between the three of us would be flowing freely. The two men took to one another, taking pleasure in these sheltered evenings when one could say whatever one pleased. Ivan was adamant that Uzbekistan, his native land, was his fatherland, and that he had never thought of leaving it. In Russia he was seen as a foreigner with an Uzbek accent and Uzbek habits. Like many other citizens of Russian origin in Uzbekistan, he had no links whatever with Russia, no relations there, nobody who was expecting him. Claiming, in denial of real-ity, to be fully an Uzbek citizen (a frequent and potentially fatal stance in these circles) he constantly deplored what he saw as the passivity of the population of Uzbek origin, its resigned submission to authority. My collaborator went even further in his criticism; the two men would exchange a host of jokes, anecdotes, proverbs and political fables. All carried the same message: a people was being remorselessly crushed; bowed by the sufferings imposed on it, it had come to tolerate the intolerable, the pitiless hubris of the pow-erful, their insatiable thirst. In their descriptions of the servile masses and of avid dictators forgetful of their people, animal meta-phors would abound – sheep, fish, etc. The president of Uzbekistan was the worst, outdoing his col-leagues in central Asia. In comparison, Russia was seen as a haven of democratic development and economic progress. Both men would agree on the probable consequences of the Andijan incidents. They were afraid of civil war, like the conflict that had broken out in Tajikistan. The only thing preventing an outcome of this sort was the current dictatorship – increasingly detestable, with the threat of further massacres, but the lesser evil. According to these two
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200859men, there was no prospect of a real political alternative either in the country or outside it; they would run through the list of the exiled members of independence movements and newly emergent figures, such as the leader of the peasant party, who had recently come back to Uzbekistan. None inspired much hope. Revolt seemed impossible. Salvation would have to come from outside. Introjec-tion of the total political powerlessness imposed by tyranny was here at its most intense. Yet before coming to this sad conclusion, a number of events had given rise to unheard-of hopes of a transfor-mation that would not also imply fear for the future: the Andijan demonstrations, which had been preceded by others in various provincial cities – less impressive, they had been repressed all the same – and a camp of peasant women and children in front of the US embassy. These delusions came to an end when news spread of butchery of the demonstrators at Andijan, accompanied by the government’s triumphal proclamations. The sudden reversal of representations seemed to echo the emotional turmoil caused by the government’s total lack of respect for the dead. Leaving the dead without burial: this gesture of contempt was a seen as a gra-tuitous provocation, increasing the unconscious terror of the popu-lation. In all ethnic-cultural contexts, irrespective of the dominant religion, the dead are held to express the unexpressed thoughts of the living. Symbolically taking over the relay from the latter, they do this in indirect and sometimes even opposite ways that have lit-tle or nothing to do with either religious belief or disbelief.The long days spent with Ivan and my associate – meetings would last until we ran completely out of conversation – consti-tuted an instructive, pleasurable and cordial micro-situation that was almost ideal for anthropological investigation. A situation of this sort places each individuals in his proper socio-economic and political position, throwing light on it. As a corollary, it enables the anthropologist to read the ways in which individual subjectivity is written into the social relationships that it helps to fashion. This prompts the observer to commute constantly between the singular subject and objective societal configurations. In the case in point, it also showed up institutional surfaces, and the interpersonal limits to the ethnicisation of social relationships promoted by the state. At these daily meetings I would take notes uninterruptedly. The two men were not put out by this. Following the Andijan events, however, fears surfaced: my companions advised me to disguise the names of all people mentioned, in case I was arrested at the airport; if my notebooks were confiscated, they could be read by the intelligence services. I immediately complied, noting that the state had slipped into our encounters in imaginary form, and that we had to protect ourselves from it by means that func-tioned like fetishes.In conclusion, I would like to note that this study of researchers in Uzbekistan is comparable in this last respect to numerous other studies of contemporary sites – undermined more or less [Lecour-voisier 2005], “twisted”, troubled – on which ethnologists have had to work. This study can also be seen as part of the scientific capitalisation of the various economic cloacae and spaces “with-out the law” marked out by the current globalisation process and maintained by it. Purportedly, globalisation also brings democracy with economic development. Some of these spaces have been completely closed to research, both internal and external; an example is Turkmenistan, another former Soviet republic where surveys have been curtailed and the science academy simply abol-ished (this abolition was followed by that of provincial hospitals). Violent condemnation of communism – the base on which the states of central Asia have hammered out their independence – and bitter criticism of Soviet colonialism correspond, in the degree of their intensity, to the new forms of dependency to which the ethnic dictatorships have reduced their respective populations. We thus have new forms of “oriental despotism” on the one hand, and on the other a “scientific incrimination” (or rather “criminalisa-tion”) of communism. The latter is still a theme of active research,3 providing the state-controlled media with material for campaigns legitimising the dominant position of the new economic arrange-ments. Despite the real knowledge that this research may have produced incidentally, it remains an ideological chimera, as is the symmetrical illusion of rehabilitating the Soviet past on the basis of accounts gathered to defend it. Over and above these easily avoidable pitfalls, however, we should no doubt also point out the atypical nature of the ethnological scene, and the singularity of the act of lending on ear that commits us precisely because it gets to the root of the subject’s utterances, and has been deliberately conceptualised to lend itself to no ideological manipulation.Notes1 Cf The survey conducted by Laurent Bazin in workers’ groups.2 Personal comunication by a female Uzbek researcher from Andijan.3 Cf The review Communisme, and Cahiers d’histoire sociale.ReferencesAsimova, Nariea (1997): ‘The Otines, the Unknown Muslim Women Clerics of Central Asian Islam’, Central Asian Survey, 16(1): 127-43. – (2004): ‘The Communal and the Sacred : Women’s Worlds of Ritual in Uzbekistan’, Incorporating Man, Royal Anthropological Institute, Volume 10, No 2.Bazin, Laurent (2005): ‘Idéologie et Construction Nationales dans les Champs de Travail et de la Parenté en Ouzbékistan’, Second Conference of Réseau-Asie, Paris. Bazin, Laurent, Bernard Hours and Monique Selim (2005): ‘Du Soviétisme à la Dictature, Jalons d’une Régression Politique, Sociale et Économique’, Réseau-Asie web site.Bourdieu, Pierre (2001): ‘Science de la Science et Réflexivité’, Raisons d’Agir. D’Encausse, H Carrère (1978): ‘Réforme et Révolution Chez les Musulmans de l’Empire Russe’.Fathi, Habiba (2004a): ‘Islamisme et Pauvreté dans le Monde Rural de l’Asie Centrale Post-Soviétique’, UNRISD, Document No 4. – (2004b): ‘Femmes d’Autorité dans l’Asie Centrale Contemporaine: Quête des Ancêtres et Recompo-sitions Identitaires dans l’Islam Post-Soviétique,’ Maisonneuve & Larose/IFEAC, Paris.Hernandez, Valeria (2005) : ‘Quid d’une Anthropolo-gie de la Connaissance? Du Rapport Cognitif dans la Contexte de la Globalisation’ in L’Universelle Panacée? Retour sur la Société et l’Économie Mondiale Basée sur les Savoirs’ M Carton and JB Meyer (eds),Collection Travail et Mondialisation, L’Harmattan, Paris.Hours, Bernard (2005): ‘Lesong au Service de la Gou-vernance Globale: le Cas de l’Ouzbékistan’, Autrepart, No 35: 99-110.Laruelle, Marlène (2005): ‘Ethnologie, Question Nationale et Etat dans l’Ouzbékistan Contemporain. Analyse de la Polémique Autour de l’Atlas Ethnique d’Ouzbékistan’,Journal des Anthropo-logues, Paris, No 100-101: 329-347.Laruelle, Marlène (2004a) : ‘Continuité des Élites Intel-lectuelles, Continuité des Problématiques Identi-taires. Ethnologie et « Ethnogenèse » à l’Académie des Sciences d’Ouzbékistan’, Cahiers d’Asie Cent-rale, FEAC Edisud, No 13-14: 45-76. – (2004b): ‘Mondialisation et Alter-mondialisme dans les Réflexions des Milieux Politiques et Intellectuels d’Asie Centrale’, La Pensée, Paris, No 38, 27-36.Lecourvoisier, Olivier (ed) (2005): Terrains Ethno-graphiques et Hiérarchies Sociales, Karthala, Paris.Schinn, T, Ragouet P (2005): ‘Controverses sur la Science, pour une Sociologie Transversaliste de l’Activité Scientifique’,Raisons d’Agir.Tokhtakhodjaeva, Marfua (1995): ‘Between the Slo-gans of Communism and the Laws of Islam’, Lahore, Pakistan.Tokhtakhodjaeva, Marfua and Turkunbekova (1996): ‘The Daughters of the Amazons: Voices from Central Asia’, Lahore.

Dear reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top