This research on language and power in Central Asia describes how oral expressive culture can allow alternate forms of political and ancestral authority to emerge in dialogue, and can challenge the totality of authoritarian rule in repressive states. This project in linguistic anthropology, based upon long-term ethnographic research in Central Asia, investigates the stories, prayers, and conversations of people seeking care for biological or spiritual illness. In a region ecologically devastated by natural resource extraction and the collapse of the socialist healthcare infrastructure, where many people are routinely sick and cannot find care, Kazakhstanis are turning increasingly toward differently ordered worlds, in which authority and care come from the ancestors, Allah, and the land itself. This research examines sacred sites pilgrimage, including shrine mausoleums as well as natural sites (water springs, hills), where visitors can hear the life/miracle stories of the ancestors and pray from the Koran with site caretakers and guides. In return, they receive the blessing of the ancestors (bata). These forms of dialogue among participants are integral to the efficacy of the sites. These practices are more broadly characteristic of an Inner Asian spiritual ecology; the performative space of these dialogues evinces a world-view and understanding of power radically alternative to the boundaries of the nation-state. This project contributes directly to linguistic understandings of voice, participation, and accountability in social interaction. The research is centered in a strong new ethnographic literature on Central Asia, and furthers understanding of postsocialisms and politics in the former Soviet Union, as well as the anthropology of the state. Given its focus on ecology and healing, the project also speaks to medical anthropology and cultural geography.
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