Identification, Discrimination, and Communication: Khorezmian migrants in Tashkent

PhD Project by Rano Turaeva-Hoehne

This research is situated in the context of post-Soviet developments in newly independent states. Increased mobility of the population sets up the background of my analysis of collective identities and communication processes in my research. The data for this research was collected during thirteen months of fieldwork in 2005-2006 in Uzbekistan.

The main focus of my research was social organisation of migrants in Tashkent. I studied various aspects of identity politics among Uzbek sub-ethnic groups in Tashkent, focusing on Khorezmian identity. The linguistic means employed during the identification processes were at the centre of my dissertation and the main contribution to the study of the politics of identity and difference. I also studied the interactions of individuals and groups in order to decipher practices and representations of collective identification and the making of difference among the groups in question.

The state policies of restricting the mobility of the population alongside the demise of the social security system after 1991 provided the background for internal migration in Uzbekistan. Increased migration contributes to the formation of ethnic networks, chain migration mechanisms, and informal economies in the country. The analysis of inter-ethnic relations in Uzbekistan therefore takes on a somewhat mixed character. It draws on classic studies of the topic in urban settings (Mitchell 1969) as well as on recent research on rural-urban differentiations (Yessenova 2005).

The main argument of my thesis is that the communication and maintenance of collective identities constitute a dialectical process. In this process, one finds, on the one hand, a collective identity with its own internal rules and principles of organisation, and, on the other hand, representations and communications of this collective identity in its relation to the relevant Other. This contributes to and develops lines of argumentation that have been pursued by Barth (1969, 1994) and Schlee (1998, 2002, 2008), among others.

My thesis contributes not only to the ethnography of Uzbekistan and Central Asia, but also adds to the study of processes of identification among and between ethnic groups in general. It does so by combining social anthropological and sociolinguistic approaches that shed light on the communicative aspects of identity politics and dynamics of identification. Gumperz, Giles, Hymes, and Fishman are among those who worked in this direction since the 1970s. However, considerable effort still needs to be made in this field. My cross-disciplinary approach required the combined use of concepts and theories from sociolinguistics and the ethnography of communication, classic social anthropological theories of inter-ethnic relations and group formation, economic theories on rational choice and the so called trader’s dilemma, and psychological theories of bonding and dependence.


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1969. Ethnic groups and boundaries : the social organization of culture difference. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget. Allen and Unwin.
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2008. How enemies are made: towards a theory of ethnic and religious conflicts. New York: Berghahn Books.

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Yessenova, S.
2005. ‘‘Routes and roots’ of Kazakh identity: urban migration in postsocialist Kazakhstan.’ The Russian Review, 64 (4), 661–679

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