Migration, Transnationalism, and Social Change in Central Asia: Everyday Transnational Lives of Uzbek Migrants in Russia

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There is an extensive research that explores the reproduction of transnational communities and relations, with a particular focus on locality, identity and culture. However, the existing literature on transnational migration is largely based on the case studies of immigrant communities living in the United States and Western Europe, while not much has been said about the transnational practices of Central Asian labour migrants in Russia, even though Russia is the world’s third largest recipient of labour migrants (after the US and Germany), and Central Asian republics rank among the most remittance-dependent economies in the world. Given the socio-political and cultural differences between Western and post-Soviet societies, it is rather naive to assume that the theoretical perspectives and insights from Western context may be applicable in the illiberal political contexts such as Russia where labour migrants can hardly engage in collective action or transnational activism.

A case in point is Uzbek labour migrants in Russia. Unlike Western countries (e.g. US, UK, Germany) where migrants have/had possibilities for establishing relatively functional transnational and diasporic communities, there is little in the way of ‘Uzbek community‘ established in Russia and it is a form of temporary migration where young Uzbeks (mainly men) go to Russia for a few years and return more or less permanently to Uzbekistan after being deported, getting entry ban or due to loss or unavailability of jobs. Although Uzbek labour migrants can hardly be called ‘transmigrants’, in this paper I argue that rapid improvements in technologies of communication (e.g. smartphones and social media) have enabled Uzbek migrants to stay in touch with their origin societies as well as to create some form of permanent, telephone-based ‘Uzbek mahalla‘ (community) in Moscow, which usually gathers around migrants that hail from the same mahalla or village in Uzbekistan. In other words, Uzbek migrants’ transnational place-making practices take place via smartphones and social media. The existence of such telephone/internet-based transnational environment helps migrants cope with the challenges of ‘musofirchilik‘ (being alien) and avoid or manoeuvre around structural constraints such as complicated residence registration and work permit rules, social exclusion, racism and the lack of social security. These specifics of the Russian migration regime have implications for transnational migration literature both theoretically and empirically as well as provide nuanced insights on the impact of migration on everyday life and social change in Central Asia.

These processes will be investigated with reference to ethnographic study of the everyday life and experiences of Uzbek migrants who work in construction sector in Moscow and their family members and community who stay behind in Shabboda mahalla in rural Fergana, Uzbekistan. By ethnographically attending to the experiences of Uzbek migrants and their left-behind communities, I will try to demonstrate the everydayness of material, emotional, social, and symbolic networks and exchanges that connect Shabboda mahalla (neighborhood community) to Moscow. More specifically, I will show how the bonds of ‘mahalladoshlik’ (shared mahalla origin) and mahalla-level social relations (e.g. hashar (reciprocity), trust, obligation, age hierarchies, gossips and social sanctions) are reproduced and maintained across distance, through smartphones and social media, and have identifiable impact on the outcomes of many practices that Uzbek migrants (and other actors) engage with in Moscow. This paper is based on ethnographic material gathered between January 2014 and May 2017 in Moscow, Russia and Fergana, Uzbekistan. (for a total thirteen months).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEurasia on the Move. Interdisciplinary Approaches to a Dynamic Migration Region
EditorsMarlene Laruelle, Caress Schenk
Number of pages15
Place of PublicationWashongton, DC
PublisherThe George Washington University, Central Asia Program
Publication date25 Jul 2018
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-9996214-2-4
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes
MoE publication typeA3 Book chapter

Fields of Science

  • 513 Law
  • law and society
  • Russian Studies
  • 5141 Sociology
  • 517 Political science

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