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The Social Life of Water Discourses in Central Asia

Sun, December 9, 8:00 to 9:45am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Floor: 4th, Grand Ballroom Salon C

Session Submission Type: Panel

Brief Description

What consequential work do diverse representations of water in Central Asia accomplish? The significance of this life-giving substance for development in the region, in the form of irrigation infrastructure, hydroelectric dams, and other projects, has long been recognized, but more attention to the complex role of officially-sanctioned narratives and discourses about water in shaping popular attitudes, scientific rhetoric, and Soviet and post-Soviet policies can lend new insight into latent potentials for and unexpected constraints on social and political life in this region. Writers, poets, journalists, engineers, and policy-makers, among others, were all routinely tasked with representing and figuring water in ways that were legible to local and professional audiences and compatible with broader Soviet and post-Soviet visions of economic prosperity and political solidarity, but this process was and is anything but straightforward. This panel brings together three papers that look at different genres of publication across overlapping historical periods in a joint effort to illuminate how citizens of Central Asia creatively resignified and transformed their relations with the environment and the state through the production of representations of water with tangible effects and resonances that endure into the present. Drawing on oft-neglected popular and scientific literature from the Soviet period and combining it with insights gained from extensive field research and archival work in Central Asia, the contributions of the panelists trace myriad depictions of water as a means to enrich and expand our understanding of a range of technical, cultural, social, and religious issues in the former USSR.

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