Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia

Overview

Drawing on extensive research in the archives of Russia and Uzbekistan, Douglas Northrop here reconstructs the turbulent history of a Soviet campaign that sought to end the seclusion of Muslim women. In Uzbekistan it focused above all on a massive effort to eliminate the heavy horsehair-and-cotton veils worn by many women and girls. This campaign against the veil was, in Northrop's view, emblematic of the larger Soviet attempt to bring the proletarian revolution to Muslim Central Asia, a region Bolsheviks saw as ...
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Overview

Drawing on extensive research in the archives of Russia and Uzbekistan, Douglas Northrop here reconstructs the turbulent history of a Soviet campaign that sought to end the seclusion of Muslim women. In Uzbekistan it focused above all on a massive effort to eliminate the heavy horsehair-and-cotton veils worn by many women and girls. This campaign against the veil was, in Northrop's view, emblematic of the larger Soviet attempt to bring the proletarian revolution to Muslim Central Asia, a region Bolsheviks saw as primitive and backward. The Soviets focused on women and the family in an effort to forge a new, "liberated" social order.This unveiling campaign, however, took place in the context of a half-century of Russian colonization and the long-standing suspicion of rural Muslim peasants toward an urban, colonial state. Widespread resistance to the idea of unveiling quickly appeared and developed into a broader anti-Soviet animosity among Uzbeks of both sexes. Over the next quarter-century a bitter and often violent confrontation ensued, with battles being waged over indigenous practices of veiling and seclusion. New local and national identities coalesced around these very practices that had been placed under attack. Veils became powerful anticolonial symbols for the Uzbek nation as well as important markers of Muslim propriety. Bolshevik leaders, who had seen this campaign as an excellent way to enlist allies while proving their own European credentials as enlightened reformers, thus inadvertently strengthened the seclusion of Uzbek women—precisely the reverse of what they set out to do. Northrop's fascinating and evocative book shows both the fluidity of Central Asian cultural practices and the real limits that existed on Stalinist authority, even during the ostensibly totalitarian 1930s.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Few doubt that Central Asia labors under a Soviet legacy, but precisely what that legacy is remains elusive. Northrop goes a long way toward reconstructing a key piece of it: the history of the Bolsheviks' effort to uproot the old and impose the new on the Muslim population of Uzbekistan between 1917 and 1941."—Foreign Affairs 83:3, May/June 2004

"Northrop shows how, in the Soviet case, there simply was not enough modernization for modernity. The din of factory machinery, sirens and barking loudspeakers, which Soviet artists celebrated in the 1920s, did not reach the quiet, dusty streets of Uzbekistan. . . . Northrop finds a colonial empire obscuring imperialist policies under the cloak of decolonization."—Kate Brown, Times Literary Supplement, April 8, 2005

"Veiled Empire contributes a lot to a more proper understanding of Soviet power in practice. It provides a remarkably deep insight into the inherent dynamics of Soviet power and gender relations in Uzbekistan during the first two decades of its existence."—Reinhard Eisner, Nationalities Papers 32(2), September 2004

"Douglas Northrop's Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia, a new study of Bolshevik cultural revolution in Central Asia, displays a thorough familiarity with the newly opened Russian and Uzbek-language archives, theoretical sophistication, historiographic erudition, and attention to everyday life. It offers the mold-breaking analysis of cultural change in Central Asia for the Soviet period that Adeeb Khalid's The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform offered for the Imperial period. . . . Much of Veiled Empire explores subaltern resistance and the state's response—policing its native agents, constructing a punitive legal system, and intruding into the private sphere. . . . Veiled Empire. . . an important book for those interested in Central Asia and Soviet imperialism, and in the clash of modernity and tradition, especially over gender. As Northrop reminds us, the veil has remained a potent point of contestation between secular states and Muslim cultures. . . . Northrop. . . provides a detailed, compelling, and thoughtful analysis of the hujum, and it should become the authoritative work on the subject."—Matthew J. Payne, The Journal of The Historical Society, IV: 2, 2004

"The author's very balanced conclusion that this Soviet 'atypical empire' was both colonized and modernized is based on extensive archival studies and soundly demonstrates that coercive modernization is a failure. Summing Up: Recommended."—A.V. Isaenko, Appalachian State University, Choice, September 2004

"Veiled Empire takes, as its central subject, an article of clothing: the head-to-toe covering worn by Uzbek women. A horsehair mesh veil masks the face, while cotton cloth loosely envelops the hair and body. I had the opportunity to don an antique Uzbek veil, and can attest to the fact that it is a hot, heavy, cumbersome garment, no doubt even for women used to wearing this cloak from the time of early adolescence. Douglas Northrop traces the multivalent meanings attached to this garment from various vantage points, including Bolshevik activists in both the center and the periphery, veiled and unveiled Uzbek women, Uzbek men, and the Muslim clerical establishment. . . . Northrop's book is among the most sophisticated contributions to a growing body of literature rooted in the non-Russian areas of the USSR. . . . He evinces a breadth of knowledge and a subtle argumentation that sets a new standard in this underdeveloped field. Cornell University Press deserves commendation for putting out a book generously illustrated by photographs and maps, and enhanced by the author's interesting bibliographic essay and unabridged translation of a sample archival document."—Paula A. Michaels, Canadian Journal of History, April 2005

"Veiled Empire is a tour de force of research, based as it is on a thorough and pioneering search of Moscow and Uzbek archives. Douglas Northrop's proficiency in languages and vast knowledge of several different historiographies make this a stunning achievement."—Lynne Viola, University of Toronto

"In Veiled Empire, Douglas Northrop masterfully analyzes a wealth of archival information from Uzbekistan, made accessible after the collapse of the USSR, on arguably one of Stalin's most celebrated revolutionary campaigns in Central Asia. Veiled Empire is a path-breaking and highly sophisticated work that carefully unpacks the events surrounding what came to be a highly symbolic piece of female clothing, to explore much deeper contestations over power and identities and to demonstrate the limits of Soviet power as well as the pull of changing loyalties through time. It is a most welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the analytical history of Soviet rule in post-independence Uzbekistan."—Nazif Shahrani, Indiana University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801439445
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2004
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Source Abbreviations
Acknowledgments
Note on Transliteration
Introduction 3
1 Embodying Uzbekistan 33
2 Hujum, 1927 69
3 Bolshevik Blinders 102
4 The Chust Affair 139
5 Subaltern Voices 164
6 With Friends Like These 209
7 Crimes of Daily Life 242
8 The Limits of Law 284
9 Stalin's Central Asia? 314
Conclusion 344
Appendix 359
Glossary 365
Note on Sources 367
Selected Bibliography 371
Index 385
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