Everyday Life in Central Asia: Past and Present.

Author:Gatling, Benjamin
Position:Book review

Everyday Life in Central Asia: Past and Present. Edited by Jeff Sahadeo and Russell Zanca. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007. Pp. ix + 401, introduction, selected bibliography, index.

One cannot read much of the scholarly literature on modern Central Asia (the countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) without encountering scholars' perennial laments about the relative lack of substantive, non-politicized analyses of life in the post-Soviet era. Indeed, rarely do academic treatments of the region come down from the macro level to consider how Central Asians live their everyday lives. Jeff Sahadeo and Russell Zanca's edited volume admirably fills this lacuna in present scholarship and will likely become a standard text for Humanities courses on the region.

The book is comprised of contributions from a mixture of well-known and newer voices in the field of Central Asian studies, spanning the disciplines of anthropology, political science, sociology, history, and religious studies. After an introduction and a short opening essay that historically positions the two major ethno-linguistic groups of the region, the editors divide the remaining chapters among categories such as "communities," "gender," "performance and encounters," "nation, state, and society in the everyday," and "religion."

Scott Levi's concise but conceptually broad introductory essay rightly problematizes essentialist scholarship which has often perpetuated the idea of the bifurcated nature of Central Asian ethnicity. In a crude distinction, some scholars continue to maintain that a static historical dichotomy exists between the nomadic and settled population of the region, one which manifests itself even in present conflict as exemplified by the violent events in Kyrgyzstan during 2010. In contrast, while recognizing the historical importance of this division, Levi paints a more complex picture of symbiosis, adaptation, and syncretism.

Under the heading of "communities," the second section of the volume is perhaps the most temporally and geographically diverse of the entire book. Indeed, it is only here that the book's contributors stray outside the bounds of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics. Contributions include Adrienne Edgar's chapter on nomadic life among the Turkmens in the pre-Soviet period, Robert Canfield's analysis of a wedding narrative highlighting the uncertainties of rural life and the "hidden transcripts"...

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