Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia

Article excerpt

Turkic World MADELEINE REEVES, Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014). Series: Culture and Society after Socialism. Pp. 312. $ 79.95 cloth. $ 29.95 paper.

In this ethnographic monograph, Reeves explores the making of very entangled borders in the mountains along the southern Ferghana Valley, where the Soviet delimitation of small exclaves resulted, after independence, in small islands belonging to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan surrounded by land belonging to Kyrgyzstan. Drawing on ethnographic observations spanning nearly a decade, Reeves depicts and analyzes the ways that states have turned ideas into lived realities, building new roads and assigning border guards, while people who live on all sides of these lines face new obstacles in their daily interactions, and capitalize on opportunities for trade and for corruption. Reeves promises to show how borders "take on material form in daily life: in practices of nanation, of classification, of mapping; in the building or dismantling of infrastructure; in the mundane and exceptional enactments of exclusion and belonging" (6).

While the title emphasizes the state, the daily lives of ordinary people fill the pages, as Reeves proposes that the state is "impersonated," meaning that people take on the state's authority by filling roles at the border, exerting effort to make themselves recognized as "official" (178). In 2004, a former district administrator in Sokh, a Tajik-populated exclave of Uzbekistan within Kyrgyzstan, told Reeves: "We only have a border on Tuesdays," the weekly market day, when customs inspectors would arrive to control the very local but international passage of people and goods (199). Over the years of Reeves's research, borders such as this one became contested, and small violent incidents provided occasion to make the separations more constant and less fluid. Reeves's interviews with border guards and her observations of moments of interaction around undetermined borders demonstrate that these impersonations, or perhaps personifications of authority, make formerly open borders into restrictive ones.

Soviet border making, where lines were supposed to conespond to ethnic identities, "served to hypostasize registers of identification that had previously been more fluid and situational" (81). The interaction of differing nationalities might cause conflict, thought Bolshevik planners, an assumption that continued to inform politicians and observers after independence, when "conflictologists" set up projects in the Ferghana border areas, proposing to diffuse or prevent the conflicts that they believe are inherent to such a geographically, ethnically complex zone. Reeves views these projects with skepticism, arguing that cross-community projects that attempt to prevent potential conflicts "tend to produce an awareness locally of ethnic difference as something at least potentially risky" (98), while endowing some groups with resources that then become new loci of conflict, or potential conflict. Reeves shows tensions in formation and the unintended consequences of well- intentioned interventions, but she seems too ready to take at face value claims of all those who reject the idea that there is any cause for conflict among the different nationality groups, even though her own empirical data frequently show otherwise.

After a very lucid introduction to theories about borders and frontiers and a quick discussion of Soviet and post-Soviet border delimitations, Reeves turns toward the ways that people from exclaves traverse these frequently un-delimited boundaries in the course of taking goods to market, going to find work, going offfor study, or sharing life-cycle events with family members living on the other side of the border. She follows flows of water, of food products and consumer goods, and of people, and she shows obstacles raised by suddenly enforced borders, telling stories of Tajiks and Kyrgyz who seek a livelihood through labor migration to Russia and of those who have not yet come to terms with the limitations that post-Soviet citizenship constructs. …

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