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Title: Re-producing social relations : political and economic change and Islam in post-Soviet Tajik Ishkashim
Author: Remtilla, Aliaa
ISNI:       0000 0004 2724 0944
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2012
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This dissertation explores what it means to be post-socialist for Ismaili Muslims living in the Ishkashim district of Tajik Badakhshan. It examines the legacies of the Soviet era in people’s everyday lives, questioning how people continue to see themselves as socialist notwithstanding the putative end of state socialism. Part of what it means to be socialist has to do with expectations of what the state should provide. Tajik Ishkashimis experienced the Soviet Union as an allocative centre that helped them greatly. The post-Soviet Tajik state is unable to provide for Tajik Ishkashimis in the way of the former Soviet Union. I suggest that Tajik Ishkashimis’ religious leader, the Aga Khan, and his development institutions have gone some way toward filling this gap, making the Imam appear to be the new paternalist centre. I propose that we think through Ishkashimis’ memories of their relations with the Soviet allocative centre through what I call an “economy of grace”. Drawing on Pitt-Rivers’ theorization of “grace” as a morally-driven gift of excess that the receiver is never expected to (be able to) return, I trace the ways in which this economy of grace continues to frame Ishkashimis’ post-Soviet engagement with the Imam and his institutions, if not with the Tajik state. I then explore the moral legacies of Soviet socialism by examining how Ishkashimis try to maintain values that they associate with socialism, most notably the privileging of social relations over the market. Where both the Tajik state and the Imam’s institutions fail to provide for Tajik Ishkashimis in the way of the former Soviet state, Ishkashimis turn to labour migration. I draw on Greenberg’s (2011) and Jansen’s (2011) definition of “normal” as the predictability of daily life to demonstrate that remittances enable those living at home to maintain the rhythms and trajectories of “normal” village life. One of the effects of migration, however, is that the absence of migrants has made villages in Ishkashim no longer feel like home. It is my contention that wedding videos actualize a transnational home by giving hope that migrants who had been present in Ishkashim for when the wedding was taped might one-day return.Many hope that the Imam will create jobs in Ishkashim that will bring home migrants because they see that his development projects in Afghanistan have had this effect. Tajik Ishkashimis want their state to enable such development work on their side too, but they also worry that the work of the Imam and his institutions will force them to negotiate the norms and values of what it means to be Ishkashimi with their cross-border Afghan kin. And so, they look to the Tajik state to firmly enforce the border and keep clear the division between Tajik and Afghan Ishkashim. Ultimately, notwithstanding the incapacity of the Imam and his institutions to provide for Tajik Ishkashimis in the way of the former Soviet state, the Imam continues to garner legitimacy because he is also a spiritual leader. As such, the Imam commands a moral order, motivating people to be good so that they can achieve spiritual enlightenment. I explain that for Tajik Ishkashimis, being good is not (yet) defined by orthopraxy. Instead, Ishkashimis strive to be good in their own ways within the context of the changing socio-economic circumstances. In many ways, even though Tajik Ishkashimis’ present socio-economic situation is ostensibly worse than during the Soviet era, they now have access to the Imam in a way they never had before. Tajik Ishkashimis hold out hope for a better future, one that looks very much like their Soviet past, only better. Better because it has the Imam in it and the spiritual component of his leadership gives him the potential to satisfy them in ways that the former Soviet state could never have.
Supervisor: Venkatesan, Soumhya; Schiller, Glick Schiller Sponsor: Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures (RICC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Islam ; Central Asia ; Post-Socialism ; Political and Economic Change