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The Institutionalization of Mobility

Well-being and social hierarchies in Central Asian translocal livelihoods


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In the wider scientific debate, post-Soviet Central Asia has been primarily known for the question in what ways this region currently experiences a “New Great Game” of geostrategy and resource-competition. In contrast to that, ethnographic research on the various cross-border mobilities, networks and identifications of non-elite actors from countries such as Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan has set off only recently. Proposing a conceptual approach based on “translocality” and “livelihood”, this article presents in-depth case studies which explore how Central Asians engage in “business-making”, “evolve” their Muslim piety, transgress rural–urban boundaries and experience ethnic marginalization in between “home” and cities in Russia, China or Egypt.

The Institutionalization of Mobility
Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
(Click to download the article in PDF format)

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the empire’s former southern periphery in Central Asia has developed into a vibrant hub for the movement of people, commodities and ideas between the international West, the Muslim South and the neighbouring (super)powers China and Russia. Essential aspects of this current situation are Russia’s claim to maintain politico–economic leverage in its former back yard, the liberal West’s ambitions to spread principles of democracy and equal rights in a largely autocratic part of the globe, as well as China’s surge for expanding its commodity trade across the borders of its post-Soviet neighbours.

While all of these large-scale players also share instant aspirations for accessing the region’s vital energy resources, eventually they manoeuvre in a sociocultural environment of ‘newly independent’ Republics, where in face of varying forms of (ethnic) nationalism and Islamic influences from South Asia, Turkey or the Arab world, their prospect for success remains uncertain. Reaching back to an era before the 70-plus-year Soviet/Socialist interlude, some commentators, emphasizing either the historical parallels or deviations of such regional interest constellations, discuss today’s situation in terms of a New Great Game or a New Silk Road.

Philipp Schröder and Manja Stephan-Emmrich show how mobility is institutionalized, i.e. how within these “translocal livelihoods” geographic relocations do not only combine with social mobility, but that assessments on personal well-being and the orientation on cultural norms also draw on somebody’s particular position within social hierarchies of gender and generation.

The article examines both material and intangible aspects of livelihoods that span between the “homes” of Central Asian interlocutors of the authors and cities in Russia, Egypt and China. Their ethnographic case studies touch on everyday economies and social networking, religious convictions and youth lifestyles, education and ethnicity to illustrate how translocal contexts evolve from both practices of place-making as well as from transgressions of national borders, linguistic, cultural and geographic boundaries.

View online : http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17450101....

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