Making a Home in Baku: Dynamics of Housing, Family and State in Azerbaijan

This dissertation looks at social and political dynamics in Baku's housing regime that have shaped citizens' everyday life during the Soviet and post-Soviet era. It analyses the role of housing and its significance as a social, cultural, and moral concept. Being strongly related to political and legal dynamics, housing is particularly relevant in shaping not only the relations and interactions among family members but also between citizens, urban communities and the state. During Soviet times, the access to housing as a collective resource for kingroups was strictly controlled by the state and allocated on the basis of fixed criteria. However, informal arrangements between citizens and state officials or the embeddedness of housing officials in competing networks of trust and loyalties characterised the system at large. Despite the ruptures and transformations in various spheres of everyday life since the end of socialism, this work highlights several continuities within the context of housing, urban development and the relationship between citizens and the state.

The book contributes to the anthropology of housing and postsocialism by bringing together different theoretical approaches which, so far, have largely remained regionally fragmented and mutually exclusive. For instance, the role of kinship and marriage has hardly been considered as being relevant for understanding the inner functioning of the Soviet housing regime or housing markets in postsocialist cities – although they are strongly related to each other. Implicitly, the present work asks in how far the Soviet state was successful in transforming what it supposed to be ‘traditional’ Caucasian societies with their emphasis on loyalties of kinship. I argue that allegedly competing identities – Azeri and Soviet – did not necessarily contradict each other in everyday life. Rather, each social role had its own space within the urban context. With regard to Soviet housing policies, state regulations could even enhance existing social dynamics. The role of kinship and mutual support actually grew stronger because they became increasingly necessary and beneficial to be applied within the urban housing regime.

One aim of this dissertation is to demonstrate how an anthropology of the house can be effectively applied to urban postsocialist contexts. It is a useful tool to access important domains and grasp processes and relationships in people’s everyday lives. This thesis not only calls for more attention to the rarely considered category of the house in anthropological research, but also illustrates that cultural concepts stand in a dynamic relation to ideologies and policies in Soviet and post-Soviet frameworks.

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