Moral geographies in Kyrgyzstan : how pastures, dams and holy sites matter in striving for a good life
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This thesis is an ethnography of how places like mountain pastures (jailoos), hydro-electric dams and holy sites (mazars) matter in striving for a good life. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in the Toktogul valley of Kyrgyzstan, this study contributes to theoretical questions in the anthropology of post-socialism, time, space, work and enjoyment. I use the term ‘moral geography’ to emphasize a spatial imaginary that is centred on ideas of ‘the good life’, both ethical and happy. This perspective captures an understanding of jailoos which connects food, health, wealth and beauty. In comparing attitudes towards a Soviet and post-Soviet dam, I reveal changes in the nature of the state, property and collective labour. People in Toktogul hold agentive places like mazars and non-personalized places like dams and jailoos apart, implying not one overarching philosophy of nature, but a world in which types of places have different gradations of object-ness and personhood. I show how people use forms of commemoration as a means of establishing connections between people, claims on land and aspirations of ‘becoming cultured’. I demonstrate how people draw on repertoires of epic or Soviet heroism and mobility in conceiving their life story and agency in shaping events. Different times and places such as ‘eternal’ jailoos and Soviet dams are often collapsed as people derive personal authority from connections to them. Analysing accounts of collectivization and privatization I argue that the Soviet period is often treated as a ‘second tradition’ used to judge the present. People also strive for ‘the good life’ through working practices that are closely linked to the Soviet experience, and yet differ from Marxist definitions of labour. The pervasively high value of work is fed from different, formally conflicting sources of moral authority such as Socialism, Islam and neo-liberal ideals of ‘entrepreneurship’. I discuss how parties, poetry and song bring together jakshylyk (goodness) as enjoyment and virtue. I show how song and poetry act as moral guides, how arman yearning is purposely enjoyed in Kyrgyz music and how it relates to nostalgia and nature imagery. The concept of ‘moral geography’ allows me to investigate how people strive for well-being, an investigation that is just as important as focusing on problem-solving and avoiding pain. It also allows an analysis of place and time that holds material interactions, moral ideals, economic and political dimensions in mind.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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