Interest, Identity and Ideology: Social Groups, Individual Behaviour and the Nation-State in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan

Like other post-Soviet states, Uzbekistan is pursuing a policy of national building to define the new state internally as well as externally. In the case of Uzbekistan this is not done by emphasising ethnic differences and hierarchies; instead, the multi-ethnic population of Uzbekistan is described as the incarnation of all previous civilisations in the region. The choice of specific national heroes and symbols emphasises the common cultural heritage of different groups rather than ethnic diversity and competition.

This project looks at the interplay of national ideologies and concepts of group affiliation and identity at the local level. In this approach, the state is viewed not as a determining force but as one important variable that influences how people define themselves in relation to others and how resources are distributed among various actors. In the case of Uzbek identity the most striking characteristics are its relative permeability and the attraction that it exerts on members of other groups. This is not only a recent process initiated by the new nation-state; it is a historic process.

Many studies on ethnicity focus solely on interaction patterns between various actors and the manipulation and the fluidity of social borders. This approach underestimates the importance of emotional and ideological attachments that people may have to specific groups and the weight of convention. After all identities are social constructs and not individual acts of will. A formal change of group membership is not necessarily equivalent with the change of one’s identity as a personal attachment to others. In this research I try to enhance approaches grounded in the analysis of self- and group interests by taking the historical and political frame as well as the cognitive dispositions of the actors into account. The aim is to look at the changing importance of various social groups over time and combine this with an ethnographic account of the meaning that identities and group affiliations have for people in everyday life situations.

Research has been conducted in four different settings within Uzbekistan, namely the Bukhara Oasis, the south-eastern Ferghana Valley, northern Kashkadarya province and southern Karakalpakistan. Each of these sites is located in one of the historic oases of the country and exhibits its own peculiarities in terms of ecological and economic endowment, historical events and ethnic configuration. Together, the four cases provide a representative cross-section of the complexity of identity formation in Uzbekistan.

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