Project

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Territory in Socialist Central Asia. A Political Geography of Soviet Modernity, 1953-1982.

Applicant Bichsel Christine
Number 126327
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Unité de Géographie Département des Géosciences Université de Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline Social geography and ecology
Start/End 01.02.2010 - 30.09.2013
Approved amount 485'472.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Social geography and ecology
General history (without pre-and early history)

Keywords (8)

territory; modernity; Political Geography; Historical Geography; Central Asia; Soviet Union; archival research; oral history

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
The present project will examine the concepts and practices of territory in Soviet Central Asia during the period of 1953-1982. It starts from the observation that the dynamics of territory in post-socialist transformation have been insufficiently explained and a-historically understood. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia became independent nation-states. An important part of the ensuing social, political and economic upheavals in these states comprised de-territorialisation and re-territorialisation processes, i.e., social processes were disconnected and re-connected to geographical places. However, the existing accounts of these processes are mostly prescriptive and teleological, and hence fail to explain underlying notions of territory. At the same time, the existing studies on the history of Soviet Central Asia have so far privileged the Stalin era, and provide only anecdotal insights into concepts and practices of territory during the later years of the Soviet Union from which post-socialist transformation departs. With the present project, I attempt to address this gap in research and examine territory in Soviet Central Asia during the Khrushchev (1953-1964) and Brezhnev (1964-1982) eras. I focus on the following main research question: What were the concepts and practices of territory during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras in Central Asia? For this project, I conceive of territory as a form of socially produced space, drawing on Henry Lefebvre's influential work. For this project, I adopt a case study design and explore three territorial configurations in Central Asia during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras: 1) Soviet republican borders; 2) collective and state farms; and 3) small towns. My methodology combines two major sources of historical evidence: 1) official records of the state accessed through archival research; and 2) personal memory accessed through oral history interviews. Data will be comprised of documentary material from the Central State Archives of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and selected interviewees' personal narratives related to the three case studies. I will use content, textual and discourse analysis to analyse and interpret data. The project contributes to the advancement of Political Geography by conceptually furthering engagement with its key concept territory. It contributes to Historical Geography by de-centring theorisation of modernity from a focus on the West with a study of Soviet modernity. Finally, it contributes to international efforts in studies of Soviet and Central Asian history to research the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Dangerous Divisions: Peace Building in the Borderlands of Post-Soviet Central Asia
Bichsel Christine (2013), Dangerous Divisions: Peace Building in the Borderlands of Post-Soviet Central Asia, in Raeymaekers Timothy, Korf Benedikt (ed.), Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke, 145.
Review of: “Government of Paper. The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan"
Bichsel Christine (2013), Review of: “Government of Paper. The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan", in Regional Studies, 47(4), 645-646.
Liquid Challenges. Contested Water in Central Asia
Bichsel Christine (2012), Liquid Challenges. Contested Water in Central Asia, in Sustainable Development Law and Policy, XII(1), 24-30.
Review of: “Along the Archival Grain. Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense”
Bichsel Christine (2012), Review of: “Along the Archival Grain. Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense”, in Journal of Historical Geography, 38(2), 198-199.
Review of: “Making great power identities in Russia. An ethnographic discourse analysis of education at a Russian elite university”
Bichsel Christine (2012), Review of: “Making great power identities in Russia. An ethnographic discourse analysis of education at a Russian elite university”, in Geographica Helvetica, 1-2, 1-2.
The drought does not cause fear'. Irrigation history in Central Asia through James C. Scott's lenses
Bichsel Christine (2012), The drought does not cause fear'. Irrigation history in Central Asia through James C. Scott's lenses, in Revue d'études comparatives Est-Ouest (RECEO), 44(1-2), 73-108.
Land, Water, and Ecology
Bichsel Christine, Mukhabbatov Kholnazar, Sherfedinov Lenzi (2011), Land, Water, and Ecology, in S. Frederick Starr (ed.), 253-277.
Review of: “Space, Place, and Power in Modern Russia. Essays in the New Spatial History”
Bichsel Christine (2011), Review of: “Space, Place, and Power in Modern Russia. Essays in the New Spatial History”, in Ab Imperio, 2, 372-377.
Review of: “The Transformation of Tajikistan. The Sources of Statehood.”
Bichsel Christine, Review of: “The Transformation of Tajikistan. The Sources of Statehood.”, in Europe-Asia Studies.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Neuste Geschichte, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
NCCR Nord-Süd Tajikistan (Asia)
- Research Infrastructure
Institut für Geographie, Russische Adademie der Wissenschaften Russia (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
University of Central Asia Kyrgyzstan (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Institut für Neuere und Osteuropäische Geschichte, Universität Freiburg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Osteuropainstitut, Universität Basel Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
NCCR Nord-Süd Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
Institut für Geographie, Abteilung für Humangeographie, Universität Zürich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Kulturgeographie, Universität Bern, Switzerland Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Departement für Humangeographie, Universität Padova Italy (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Ethnologisches Seminar, Universität Zürich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Departement für Zeit, Raum, Bilder, Gesellschaft, Universität Verona Italy (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
ESEH conference 2013 "Circulating natures: Water-Food-Energy" Talk given at a conference 20.08.2013 Munich, Germany Bichsel Christine;
Workshop “Mobility and Identity in Central Asia” Talk given at a conference 25.05.2012 Zürich, Switzerland Bichsel Christine;
Annual Munk School of Global Affairs Graduate Student Conference “Not a Drop To Drink: Water Scarcity and Politics in the 21st Century” Talk given at a conference 31.03.2012 Toronto, Canada Bichsel Christine;
Mountain Seminar, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences Individual talk 16.02.2012 Moscow, Russia Bichsel Christine;
RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2011, panel "Me, myself and the archive. Reflecting on encounters and enchantments" Talk given at a conference 31.08.2011 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Bichsel Christine;
Zentralasien: Auf dem Weg in die Moderne? Internationaler Workshop zur Untersuchung einer Konflikt- und Zukunftsregion Talk given at a conference 26.05.2011 Basel, Switzerland Bichsel Christine;
University of Central Asia Public Lectures Individual talk 17.05.2011 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Bichsel Christine;
Geokolloquium, Departement für Geowissenschaften, Universität Freiburg Individual talk 19.04.2011 Fribourg, Switzerland Bichsel Christine;
42th Annual Convention for the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), panel “Contact Zones and Border Zones: Central Asia in the Post-Stalin Soviet Union Talk given at a conference 18.11.2010 Los Angeles, United States of America Bichsel Christine;
Tagung „Klimawandel und Konflikte“ of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (AFK), panel „Wasserverknappung als Medium von Konflikt und Kooperation“ Talk given at a conference 26.02.2010 Hamburg, Germany Bichsel Christine;
International Workshop "Bringing the Margins Back In: War Making and State Making in the Borderlands" Talk given at a conference 12.02.2010 Ghent, Belgium Bichsel Christine;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Territory 01.06.2010 Fribourg, Switzerland

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
132387 Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Chinese Territoriality: Development of Infrastructure and Han Migration into the Region 01.11.2010 Project funding (Div. I-III)
121065 Developing borderlands: Geographical perspectives on development, state and subjectivity at the Central and Southeast Asian borders 01.03.2008 Fellowships for prospective researchers
162393 Deconstructing steppe imaginaries in Russian and Soviet artistic and scientific literature from 1890 to 1960 01.10.2016 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

The present project will examine the concepts and practices of territory in Soviet Central Asia during the period of 1953-1982. It starts from the observation that the dynamics of territory in post-socialist transformation have been insufficiently explained and a-historically understood. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia became independent nation-states. An important part of the ensuing social, political and economic upheavals in these states comprised de-territorialisation and re-territorialisation processes, i.e., social processes were disconnected and re-connected to geographical places. However, the existing accounts of these processes are mostly prescriptive and teleological, and hence fail to explain underlying notions of territory, and their historical constitution. At the same time, the existing studies on the history of Soviet Central Asia have so far privileged the Stalin era, and provide only anecdotal insights into concepts and practices of territory during the later years of the Soviet Union from which post-socialist transformation departs. With the present project, I attempt to address this gap in research and examine territory in Soviet Central Asia during the Khrushchev (1953-1964) and Brezhnev (1964-1982) eras. Thus, my project has three main objectives: 1) it attempts to conceptually explain the notion of territory in late Soviet modernity; 2) it aims to empirically illuminate territorial configurations in Central Asia during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras; and 3) it strives to provide a better understanding of post-socialist transformation by explaining its historical contingency. I focus on the following main research question: What were the concepts and practices of territory during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras in Central Asia? For this project, I conceive of territory as a form of socially produced space, drawing on Henry Lefebvre’s influential work. I understand territory as bounded space attributed with meaning. Equally, I approach Soviet modernity from a perspective of Historical Geography by exploring geographical processes that shaped the past, while at the same time critically reflecting on the ways in which this past is understood and culturally represented in the present. For this project, I adopt a case study design and explore three territorial configurations in Central Asia during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras: 1) Soviet republican borders; 2) collective and state farms; and 3) small towns. I select these three cases for their relevance as key territorial configurations that experienced de-territorialisation with Soviet disintegration, but were re-territorialised during post-socialist transformation. The first case will examine the diachronic border delimitations in Central Asia. It aims to explain territory in relation to the construction of the Soviet state, constituted by Soviet republics and Soviet nationalities. The second case will look into collective and state farms in order to explain territory in relation to Soviet rural modernity. The third case will explore the development of small towns in order to explain territory in relation to Soviet urban modernity. Empirically, I will conduct research on these three cases in the Ferghana Valley, a large intramontane basin in Central Asia shared by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. My methodology combines two major sources of historical evidence used in Historical Geography: 1) official records of the state accessed through archival research; and 2) personal memory accessed through oral history interviews. Data will thus be comprised of documentary material from the Central State Archives of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and selected interviewees’ personal narratives related to the three case studies. Data will be collected during 7 months of field research in Central Asia. I will use content, textual and discourse analysis in order to analyse and interpret data. The present project contributes to the advancement of the discipline of Political Geography by theoretically and conceptually furthering engagement with its key concept territory. It contributes to Historical Geography by de-centring theorisation of modernity from a focus on the West with a study of Soviet modernity. Finally, it contributes to international efforts in the study of Soviet and Central Asian history to research the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras. I plan to carry out this research in the Geography Unit of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Freiburg.
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