2:00 - 2:30
Margaret Mills -- "Post-Soviet Ambivalence: Collaborative Ethnographic Research and Writing in Tajikistan"
A collaborative ethnographic research project with five local colleagues, on the articulation of social ethics in everyday speech in post-Soviet Tajikistan, begun in 2005, is now in the final phases of writing up as a set of mini-monographs. The daily experience of Tajiks of all social ranks includes both ambivalence and paradox: actions and attitudes that are appropriate to an emerging capitalist democracy, as understood by Tajiks, are at odds with other still-active value systems, whether Soviet-style communal values, Islamic ideals that are gaining visibility daily, or older, not specifically Muslim notions of group and individual social responsibility and entitlement. The researchers had to make a primary determination of what would be researchable:
- by consensus, 'political speech' as a declared topic of research was 'too sensitive' in the present emergent national context, even though we saw ethics and politics as inextricable in both practice and report, with the implication that much of what we would observe and report would be 'about politics';
- some eminently discussable phenomena are not formally reportable: pervasive corruption in the educational system, for instance, is a prime topic of daily conversation, expressed as condemnation and consternation by faculty and students alike, with students, faculty and parents all ready to talk about experiences with bribery to secure admissions and/or favorable evaluations, but the researcher who first undertook that topic, soon decided that given the tight network of academic professionals, confidentiality could not practically be achieved, so he dropped the topic;
- oral histories offered to (and sometimes by) the researchers presented a provocative mixture of celebration and critical memory, sometimes both at once, applied to the Soviet experience and what came before and after, especially in the realms of interpersonal responsibility, the identity and nature of notable persons, and the importance of these memories to present-day identity formation;
- all five researchers chose subject populations with which they had personal ties and thus good access; locally connected field team members were then faced with dilemmas of identity and distancing, concerning what was tellable vs. what was repeatable in a published ethnography (co-publication in English and Tajik language being one of our goals);
-The convener/editor/frame narrative writer (Mills) is thus faced with the dilemma of whether and how to discuss, for an alien (English-speaking, non-local) audience, the nature of the tellable but not writable, and/or how far one can take the analysis beyond the frames that the researchers themselves, with due caution, have constructed for their respective studies. The editing task has already been far more intrusive than the usual when similarly trained scholars are at work, since one of the attractions of the collaboration for us all was to introduce these experienced Soviet-trained researchers to ethnographic methods, theoretical concerns, and framing questions that had not been part of their prior training, but which they could measure against the emerging discursive rules and goals of their own academic institutions and potential readership.
About Margaret Mills:
Margaret Mills is Professor of Folklore and Persian in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Ohio State. Her previous field research has primarily concerned traditional narrative genres and oral history in Persian language in Afghanistan, and most recently, in Tajikistan. She has also written on ethnographic research ethics.