ESCAS Conference 2019 (Exeter)

In the frame of the 16th biennial conference organised by the European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS) and held at the University of Exeter (UK), three members of REFPoM project intervened in the following panel.

PANEL: “Questioning death and hierarchies in Central Asia: the Funerary Economics and Rituals during the Soviet and contemporary periods”

Panel convenor: Juliette Cleuziou (Lumière – Lyon 2 University)

Chair: Diana Ibañez Tirado (Sussex University)


In this panel, the contributors seek to explore the stakes that surround the management of death in Central Asian societies during the Soviet and contemporary periods. Although death has been a classical object of investigation for social sciences, its concrete implications in terms of organization, economics and material practices have rarely – if not at all – been explored in the light of social and spatial mobility. Yet, the economics of funerals constitute a crucial moment of reproduction or transformation of local hierarchies, as well as the latent affirmation of the persisting existence of a community conceived as such. Yet it also reveals how people position themselves, reasserting social hierarchies and differentiated statuses. Funerary rites also contain negotiated dimensions, albeit they rather imply relations to the realm of the dead and beliefs. In times of highly mobile society, how do the dead and beliefs travel and adapt? All the papers will deal with either one of the two aspects, or with both. 


Juliette Cleuziou

Affiliation : Lumière – Lyon 2 University (France)

Title : “Funerary spaces and rituals in migratory context: Cases from Tajik migrants community in Tver and Moscow, Russia”

Abstract : In this presentation I will question the notions of temporary migration, kinship and community through the observation of mortuary practices among Tajiks working and living – sometimes for many years – in Russia. The great variety of family statuses and individual situations contrast with the aim of certain individuals to structure a community of migrants. I will particularly focus on the endeavour of certain self-proclaimed or designated leaders to promote and structure a local “Tajik diaspora” through practices of reciprocal services, financial circulation and solidarity in the context of funerals.

Christilla Marteau d’Autry

Affiliation : LESC (Center of Comparative Sociology and Ethnology) – Paris Nanterre University (France) 

Title : To Die Abroad. The Repatriation of Uzbek Migrants from Russia to Uzbekistan or the Journey of a Corpse to a Deceased Person.

Abstract: To die abroad deeply alters the practices and temporality of muslim funerals. It introduces a new time lapse, from the death to the repatriation of the corpse to its home, where the funeral rites can take place. The repatriation of corpses from Russia to Uzbekistan is a complicated, tedious and costly process. Administrative procedures, specific practices and transportation require the involvement of various capable persons. What discourses do people in Uzbekistan hold about the repatriation process? How are they involved in it? What sense do they make of the new time lapse? How do they modify the rites because of repatriation? This paper will question the temporality of funerals, in both their temporal and spatial sequences: that of the repatriation of a corpse, from the host country, to that of the burial of a deceased person, in the native one.

Isabelle Ohayon

Affiliation: National Centre for Scientific research (France), Centre for the study of Russia, Caucasus and Eastern Europe (CERCEC)

Title: “Kazakh Islam, Soviet Mausoleums: Honouring the Dead under Socialism.”

Abstract: During the late soviet period (from the end of the 1960’s till the 1980’s), ceremonial expenditure substantially grew in Kazakhstan and more broadly among indigenous societies of Central Asia. Spending on funeral rituals became particularly salient. In this paper, I will analyze the political and economic conditions that made possible the mobilization of large amount of food and gifts, as well as the workforce in order to honour the dead. Indeed, a real fashion for mausoleums spread in the Kazakh steppes at that time. I will also articulate this phenomenon to religious policy then implemented at the local level in Kazakhstan. The practices carried out at diverse stages of funerary rituals question the way death was invested as a social space for actualizing and building social hierarchies.

Sandra Pellet

Affiliation: Paris Nanterre University and CNRS (France)

Title: “Migrants’ informal economic practices in the event of death or facing the risk – A quantitative survey”

Abstract: What practices do Central Asian migrants develop in the face of the risk of death in mobility? In this presentation, we use the exploratory data from the pilot of an original statistical survey focused on Tajikistani and Uzbekistani migrants in Russia. The aim of the study is to see how informal solidarity funds and networks are organised in the event of the death of a migrant. Who are the participants of those solidarity funds ?  Do Tajikistani and Uzbekistani behave the same in this specific case? What about men and women ? Are these channels used directly in situ when death occurs or are they elaborated upstream as a sort of an informal insurance covering this risk? Are the migrants aware of the risk of death before migrating ? We will discuss these questions based on the preliminary results from the quantitative analysis and in relation to the results of preceding qualitative analysis.

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