Between the Ethnos and the Soviet People: Intermarriage and Identity in KazakhstanTuesday, 23. July 2013 | 16:15
Adrienne Edgar, University of California, Santa Barbara
Organiser (s): Halle-Zurich Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia (CASCA)
Location: Main Seminar Room, MPI for Social Anthropology and Seminar for Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale)
This paper examines the relationship between “Soviet” and national identities among ethnically mixed couples and families in the Brezhnev era. Based on approximately 50 in-depth oral history interviews
conducted in Kazakhstan, it explores the contradictory attitudes toward ethnicity in the late Soviet period, when a “Soviet identity” was promoted even as individual nations and “ethnoses” (to use a term from
Brezhnev-era social science) were increasingly conceptualized in primordial, even biological terms. The Soviet state was favourably inclined toward ethnic mixing, a position that stood in stark contrast
to the anti-miscegenation attitudes prevalent in the United States and Europe. Intermarriage was seen as contributing to the eventual merging of the Soviet nations into a single “Soviet people” and was closely
associated with the arrival of modernity in “backward” areas such as Central Asia. For all the distinctiveness of the Soviet approach to ethnic mixing, interviews reveal that mixed individuals and families in the Soviet Union faced challenges that resembled those of individuals who crossed ethnic boundaries in other parts of the world. Members of mixed families were constrained by the need to choose one “official” or “passport” identity, as well as by the deep-rooted emphasis on the importance of nationality within the Soviet system. Soviet offspring of mixed marriages often felt that they were forced into a single ethnic box, unable to embrace and integrate all the various components of their identities. Despite the official promotion of the “friendship of peoples,” the consolidation of a “Soviet” identity was consistently
undermined in practice by this insistence on the salience of nationality.
Adrienne Edgar is an associate professor of modern Russian and Central Asian history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received a B.A. in Russian from Oberlin College, an M.A. in International Affairs and Middle East Studies from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley. She has held visiting appointments at Harvard University, McGill
University, and the Alexander von Humboldt Universität (Berlin). Edgar is the author of /Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan /(Princeton University Press, 2004), and a number of articles on
ethnicity, nationality, and gender in Soviet Central Asia. She is currently completing a book about ethnic intermarriage in the Soviet Union.