Absent: Tajikistani Voice at the Central Eurasian Studies Society Conference

The Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS) 2012 annual conference that finished today at the Indiana University (Bloomington) was fantastic in terms of the profile of scholars that attended the event, quality of research presented, and range of perspectives represented.

But there is one thing that I found troubling about this year’s conference: the absence of a Tajikistani perspective and voice. Out of the eight papers focusing directly on Tajikistan – and many more papers dealing with Tajikistan less directly – only one paper was presented by a Tajikistani (which happens to be me). Out of the about 180 participants, only one was Tajikistani (me again). I am not suggesting that the non-Tajikistani scholars doing research on the country are less competent in doing so or anything of the sort. However, I am really concerned about Tajikistanis playing no role in how the country is represented, talked and argued about in the western (effectively, global) academia.

In contrast, scholars from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia’s Tatarstan, and China’s Xinjiang attended the conference and presented really interesting papers.

So why is Tajikistan absent from all of this? Does it have to do with the costs involved in attending such conferences? This is unlikely given that the Open Society Institute (OSI) is eager to offer travel grants to scholars in the country. Is this about Tajikistani scholars not speaking English and not being able to do research and write papers in the way that western academia would find acceptable? Maybe, but there are so many young people from Tajikistan who did their Master’s degrees in the West, in India, and Japan. Where are they? Is this perhaps about the lack of networks and connections as a result of which Tajikistani scholars simply do not know about such conferences being held? Or is it about lack of interest? Or all of the above?

Puzzling.

5 Comments

Filed under Academia, Education, Tajikistan

5 responses to “Absent: Tajikistani Voice at the Central Eurasian Studies Society Conference

  1. That is a very keen observation, Alex. There are likely three reasons for what you observed at the 2012 CESS: (1) Poverty: Tajikistan was the poorest communist republic of the Soviet Block and it remains so as the poorest of the post-Soviet and E. European states. Poverty surely does not correlate well with active participation of scholars in conferences. (2) Civil War: The 1992-97 war led to a massive brain drain from Tajikistan to mostly Russia, but also Israel, US, Kazakhstan, among other places. Among those emigrating were highly educated professors, the very same people who could have trained a young generation of scholars. (3) Dearth of scholarship: The level of scholarship in Tajikistan has been very likely among the lowest (possibly the lowest) among the post-communist states. Many of the Western-based Tajikistani graduate students are either (a) former technocrats (such as those who used to work for the UN, World Bank, Western embassies or the government) in Dushanbe, who despite aptitude have not had a personal history of critical analysis and essay writing, something which a conference paper and presentation requires or (b) of the qualified Western-based Tajikistani scholars, most no longer are focusing on Tajikistan. They have mentally closed that chapter of their lives and have nearly no plans of returning to the old country nor analyzing its affairs. (4) Government hindrance: The government in Tajikistan is both distrustful of Western institutions of higher learning and uninformed of their significance. Just look at the barriers that it has put in front of one of the best educational opportunities which can propel a good segment of Tajikistan’s higher education to world class levels, that of the University of Central Asia. In contrast, Kyrgyzstan, though not perfect, is relatively open to international educational input with Bishkek alone having 3 or 4 good to excellent international universities and now the country is facing a problem of a high supply of intellectually apt and educated youth which the internal job market may not be able to absorb as fast as it should (a totally different problem than Tajikistan). These were some of my thoughts … @eTajikistan

  2. Christian

    I can think of a few other factors, in addition to the ones mentioned above. One is that if a Tajikistani student is in Europe and is studying for their PhD (or has recently earned their degree) in a political science, anthropology or sociology department, their priorities for conferences attendance are (and should be) for the more prominent conferences within their disciplines. If they can get conference funding , they’ll go to a big prestigious social science conference withing their field, not to the CESS conference. Of course, if their university is nearby to wherever the CESS conference is, it’s easier to show up with less funding.

    Another factor I can think of is that there are so few researchers from Tajikistan in North American universities. I can think of far more in Europe. European conferences are far more important for them.

    Also, I should add that CESS has had serious problems in the past with no-shows from Central Asia. Many Central Asian scholars had their presentations accepted and then failed to show up. Many even do not send a last minute email to withdraw. This results in a one or two year ban. So CESS does try to get Central Asian scholars to attend.

    Finally, there are more than a few PhD students from Tajikistan scattered around North America at the moment. I’m sure they all have good reasons for not attending. There may be factors involved that we have not even thought of (personal commitments, dislike of CESS, work commitments, etc…)

    Obviously, these factors affect all Central Asians scholars, yet other countries were represented. It could be a combination of the relatively smaller number of student/scholars from Tajikistan, the factors mentioned above, and chance. I no longer attend CESS conferences due to my current and past residences outside of North America, so I’m not sure if recent conferences have had much in the way of researchers from Tajikistan. However, the old conference schedules should be floating around the internet somewhere.

  3. Bahodur J.

    I think you should have started by saying that there are not may Tajik (Tajikistani) academics to go to these conferences in the first place. The older-generation scholars, Soviet-educated, don’t speak English or can’t write papers that would be acceptable at conferences in USA. The younger-generation Master’s and PhD students don’t care about the ‘academic’ part that much. Most of them enrolled in these programmes just to leave Tajikistan and find good jobs elsewhere afterwards.

  4. sarfaroz N

    by the way there were still few voices representing Tajikistan a year later — in 2013 In Madison, WI, even though a number of presentations featured Tajikistan ..

    • I agree that there were not many Tajikistani voices this year. Yet, there were more of us than last year, and, as you pointed out, Tajikistan was a bigger focus this year than in 2012. It seems that we are on a right track🙂

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