Locating Persons: An Ethnography of Personhood and Place in Rural Kyrgyzstan
This thesis is an anthropological investigation of the interconnections between personhood and place in rural northern Kyrgyzstan. It studies the way people negotiate and experience relations with others and with the places in which they live and work. It is based on 18 months of fieldwork carried out in Kochkor raion between June 2006 and August 2008. I look at how the interplay between conceptual forms and everyday practices constitute personhood. I show how both formal ways of reckoning kinship, such as recounting genealogies and tracing back seven generations of male ancestors, and everyday forms of socialising are both integral in what it means to be a person, and are flexible in their designation of persons of the same kind and persons that are different. I go on to show how place holds particular significance for the attribution and negotiation of personhood, but that this meaning is emergent and processual. Providing an historical overview of the linking of persons to places by successive bureaucratic structures, I highlight how understanding places as "cultured" or "pure" have important consequences for how people understand themselves and others as more or less "Kyrgyz", more or less "modern". I show how recent reworkings of the meaning of "lineage places" following privatisation and village resettlement have led to changing forms of personhood, shifting from state farm worker to independent farmer. Other kinds of places are also meaningful for personhood. I highlight how the home and the objects it contains are active in the negotiation of a daughter-in-law's personhood. I examine everyday practices of caring for the home, as well as more unusual practices of building new kinds of homes. These practices are integral to varied personhoods such as being a village daughter-in-law, or seeing oneself as "modern". These personhoods and relationships with place are subject to ongoing negotiation, and death and grief disrupt these connections. A focus on emotion both within ritual practice and during grief lived everyday enables a better understanding of how personhood emerges from intersubjective processes which involve negotiation, rejection and incorporation of social and political processes. A focus on the co-production of place and personhood allows us to see both as becoming meaningful through these interactions.
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