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New Left Review 55, January-February 2009

The life-world of social scientists in Uzbekistan, seen through an ethnographic prism. Monique Selim traces the material and intellectual struggles of post-Soviet scholars, and the instrumentalization of ethnicized knowledge by the Karimov regime.



An Ethnographic Study of Uzbek Scholarly Life

A study of social scientists in Uzbekistan is likely to be atypical in several ways. Both its setting—the Academy of Science in Tashkent—and the population under investigation: formerly tenured Soviet-era researchers, retained as contractual employees under the post-Communist regime, virtually impose methodological adjustments on the visiting ethnologist; not least because the scholars’ own occupations—philosophers, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists—put them on a professional peer footing with her. Moreover, Uzbekistan stands out for its degree of exclusion from contemporary processes of capitalist globalization. A decade and a half after independence, the economy is in a disastrous state. Enterprises have stopped production, disappearing one after the other. Workers who formerly drew salaries have been left to fend for themselves in the cities, and in rural areas to adapt to subsistence economies; a skilled state employee earns an average of $10–20 a month. Conventional terms such as ‘unemployment’ or ‘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.

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Monique Selim, ‘Notes from Tashkent’, NLR 55: £3

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