Reviews

A staple theme of Anglophone academic, journalistic and international organisation discourse about post-Socialist Eurasia (most specifically about the Fergana Valley) has been the importance of ‘ethnicity’—a convenient tool indeed in the hands of typologists and foreign-policy makers.  The purpose of this article is to address the following question:  Have ‘border disputes’ since 1999 made ‘ethnic conflicts’ in the Fergana Valley more likely, as many commentators have warned?  To address this question, the author begins by discussing the meaning and recent historical role of ‘ethnicity’ in Central Asia, particularly in the often “weakly substantiated and poorly theorised (p. 257)” Anglophone literature, and the politics of its use as a category to explain conflict.  Arguing that focus group methodology is peculiarly adapted for the task, he analyses the results of 15 focus groups conducted in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2000.  For instance, the comparative study of materials from different focus groups permits him to shed light on the importance of geographies of residence and occupation for explaining varied attitudes toward the changed border control regime that might otherwise be mistaken as ‘ethnic’ (p. 269).  Discussing prominent theoretical or empirical references, the article considers ethnicity not as a given attribute adhering to an individual, but as a fluid and contested process, “a historically contingent and malleable force” that only has meaning in concrete contexts.  So doing, the author uncovers a significant gap between elite conceptions of ethnicity, and the popular significance attached to it.  Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan expressed similar views about the closures of international boundaries since early 1999, framed in terms of ethnicity.  These overlaps and discrepancies provide resources for those wishing to articulate visions of future social formations wider than the range of options currently propagated by “ethnic entrepreneurs.”  The article concludes by suggesting that in the light of Kyrgyzstan’s ‘Tulip Revolution’ of March 2005, this interstice may be a space for imagining alternative forms of national belonging and political formation in south Kyrgyzstan.  Brilliantly written, theoretically and experimentally well-argued, this exemplary paper belongs to the very first generation of epistemological appraisals of twenty years of English-language publications on contemporary Central Asian societies.  As such, its reading and discussion must be highly recommended to researchers of all disciplines of human and social sciences embarking on the study of this specific area.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-1.2.C-85