With the ambition of constructing a global and valid representation of the sociology and policy of knowledge in Central Asia, the author has been focusing her analysis on the ‘boundary work’ produced by Kyrgyzstani academics for the definition of the field of social sciences, in relation with politics in particular, during the last years of the Soviet period (1985-91) and the first decade of the independence (till 2001). If the sociological concept of boundary work is classically based (since at least the works by Thomas S. Kuhn) on the postulate that scientific disciplines are socially and institutionally constructed, it gives more room to the evolution of the frontier between sciences and their specific logic (the logic of research), on the first hand, and on the other hand other fields, in particular the field of politics.
The first chapter of the book detaches the narratives of the post-Soviet ‘transition’ from its political and epistemological postulates. The second one proposes a social history of social sciences in Central Asia before the independences, in the framework of histories of colonialism, with a particular interest in the Orientalism/Occidentalism issue. The third one revises the Soviet narratives of the history of social sciences in Central Asia from the viewpoint of these narratives’ introduction of the acceptable relationship between these disciplines and political practice in the USSR. The author then examines the articulation between this scientific and political ethos and ‘national’ questions as they used to be raised and tackled during Perestroika ― the demand for autonomy by Kyrgyzstani sociologists being combined with the practice of a more critical Marxist ideology. In the fifth chapter, devoted to the early independence period, the author casts light on the supplanting of till then hegemonic Marxist concepts, and the systematic adoption of ‘capitalist agendas’, combined with the parallel preservation of the Soviet ethics of research, based on the necessity of a strong link between scientific truth and (the state’s) political practice. Chapter six is conceived as an illustration of the impact of market economy and political change, since 1991, on the professional practices of Kyrgyzstani sociologists ― one of the innovations observed being the new variety of these practices, conditioned notably by the henceforth diversified situations of the country’s varied academic institutions. The seventh chapter studies the emergence of a new ethics of research, and insists on the socio-political as well as academic dimension of this phenomenon.
In her conclusion, the author insists on the fact that social sciences in Soviet and present-day Central Asia have been formed not only by external structures of domination, but also by the action of the researchers themselves, through their permanent negotiation of “boundaries between truth and politics,” with the goal to create a discipline that would be at the same time scientifically valid (according to the logics of research) and politically normative (viz., making sense with the logic of the political power, whatever the latter). S. Amsler diagnoses that the intellectual emancipation that seemed to be announced by the reforms in the fields of research and education is confronted with erosion, due to the “colonisation” of these fields by increasing demands from a nationalising state, and to the rapidly growing concurrence instilled within the scientific community by the instauration of market mechanisms. Though not devoid of a sometimes simplistic dialectical approach and ignoring among other things the sharp concurrences that had been created among Soviet Central Asian academic institutions by Stalinism and Brezhnevism, S. Amsler’s work proposes a still very rare historical and epistemological perspective on soviet Central Asia and on the Western colonial world from the viewpoint of cognitive discourses and practices. A more detailed account of this book has been published by the same reviewer in the Cahiers du monde russe 50/4 (2009), in print.