DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives


“Circulating Dead Bodies”– Considering Postsocialist Funerary Rituals and Economy in Contexts of Mobility (REFPoM)

In post-socialist Central Asia, international mobility, mainly towards Russia, has increased considerably since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. These migratory flows are sometimes accompanied, depending on the hazards of the trajectories, by the death of the migrants. The REFPoM project is concerned with the very issues raised by mobile deaths in Russia and Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia).

Two main areas of research: economic and ritual adjustments and the political dimension related to «death at far«

This project aims to analyse them according to two main areas of study: <br /> <br />a. « Re-territorializing one's dead. Symbolic, ritual and economic imperatives«. <br />The aim is to analyse the symbolic, ritual and economic modalities of the re-territorialisation of the «mobile dead«, which in most cases include the repatriation of the deceased's body. Here in Central Asia and there in Russia, institutional, political and economic constraints contribute to the creation by migrants and their families of ritual and economic adjustment practices. The analysis of the deaths of Central Asian migrants in Russia will thus make it possible to understand the issues raised by the symbolic, ritual and economic practices of re-territorialization to which they give rise. More generally, it will contribute to research on these «deterritorialized deaths«. <br /> <br />b. «Funeral rituals, memory building and political resistance« <br />This 2nd axis of research focuses on the memory construction and the political dimension of these transnational ritual practices. One of the original features of the REFPoM project lies in the political approach to the phenomenon: it is to approach ritual as the place of a micro-policy that makes it possible to grasp, beyond symbolic and family transformations, the way in which migration and current political processes affect the relationship between populations and their institutions. Here, the notions of «tactics« (Certeau and Giard 2010) and «infra-politics« (Scott 2006) will serve as a theoretical vantage point for analyzing the relationships between social groups (migrants, their families, etc.) and the institutions that govern them.

The REFPoM project proposes to explore a region little invested by French anthropology and to analyse a phenomenon never before studied in the region, the «deaths at far«, with the prism of an interdisciplinary approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies.
The anthropologists, sociologists and economists involved in the project will work together particularly closely on issues related to the formal and informal forms of foresight of the people of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in Russia -- in particular on the risks of both health and death. The development of the statistical survey questionnaire to be conducted by the economists will be based on the knowledge already acquired through field surveys conducted by the project's sociologists and anthropologists.

It is therefore a matter of reflecting in depth on the possible complementarities of quantitative and qualitative research, not only in terms of their results, but also in the progressive elaboration of the research questions and the methods adopted to answer them.

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In postsocialist Central Asia, international migrations mostly towards Russia have been increasing since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. These circulations may sometimes end with the death of migrants. This project will expore the issues raised by deaths that occur during this mobility. It will contribute to explore a region that has been left aside by French anthropology (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, and Russia) and to analyse with a multidisciplinary approach the overlooked issues raised by "dying abroad".
Our projet aims at exploring new territoriality of migrants' deaths which, as the ones of the living, tend to intensify in an unprecedented way, in both their modality and their frequence. These new forms of circulation encourage the creation of new ritual and economic practices by societies.

The REFPoM project will analyze these practices following two lines of research:
(a) "Re-territorializing the dead: Symbolic, ritual and economic practices"
It will analyze the symbolic, ritual and economic practices of reterritorialization of these deaths which occured during migrants' mobility. In most case, death is followed by body repatriation. Our aim is to study funerary ideology, transnational ritual practices and family relations, a background on which these practices take place during these tragic times. Examining how people chose where to burry a late relative, how to repatriate him/her, and the financial costs that these decisions imply demand to consider also the variety of populations (Uzbeks, Tajiks, Mongols, etc.) and of religions (islam, buddhism, etc.) coexisting in this wide territory.

(b) "Funerary rituals, construction of memory and political resistance".
Our second research question will focus on the construction of the memory of the dead, and the political dimension of transnational ritual practices. One of the original aspects of our project is based on its political approach: rituals will be taken as sites of micropolitics. Close analysis will highlight how migrations and political processes impact relations between communities, societies, and the institutions ruling them.
Notions such as "tactic" (De Certeau) or "infra-politics" (Scott) will serve as starting points to think how rituals can become "arenas of contestations" (Gardner and Grillo, 2002) in times of political and economic unstability, at a more or less conscious level. This project will thus highlight politcal relations between communities and States, relations that are not reflected in institutions but embedded in specific practices - here, funerary ones - which frequently aim at by-passing them.

Project coordinator

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LESC Laboratoire d'ethnologie et de sociologie comparative

Help of the ANR 141,836 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2018 - 24 Months

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