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Modernity, Postcolonialism, and Theatrical Form in Uzbekistan

  • Laura L. Adams

In this article Laura Adams examines cultural change in Uzbekistan through the evolution of European-style theater during the twentieth century. The adoption of this theatrical form was part of a broader project of cultural modernization undertaken first by the Jadids and then by the Soviets. It was also an example of a colonial hierarchy of cultures, which deemed European forms to be more advanced than indigenous ones. In spite of a pervasive discourse about the renewal of national culture, however, European-style theater continues to be strongly supported in Uzbekistan today. Adams argues that both modernization and colonialism contributed to an internationalist orientation among Uzbekistan's cultural elites. This orientation makes an investment in indigenous cultural forms less desirable, since they are only intelligible on a local level. European-style theater, however, enhances the value of national culture both by marking its modernity and by communicating national content in an internationally understood and valued medium.

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Research for this article was supported by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of State (Title VIII), and the U.S. Information Agency, and by a graduate research grant from the Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2000 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association and at the 2001 meeting of the Central Eurasian Studies Society. I am grateful to Jeff Goldfarb for a critical comment on an earlier version of this paper, and I want to thank Todd Horowitz and two anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this version and Adeeb Khalid and Ron Suny for helpful discussions on empire.

1. Cold War-era scholars tended to use the term empire in a pejorative sense, and the term shows up this way in everyday usage throughout post-Soviet space. Attempts to address the issue in an analytical, rather than normative, fashion include Beissinger Mark R., “The Persisting Ambiguity of Empire,” Post-Soviet Affairs 11, no. 2 (April- June 1995): 149-84; Hirsch Francine, “Toward an Empire of Nations: Border-Making and the Formation of Soviet National Identities,” Russian Review 59, no. 2 (April 2000): 201-26; Khalid Adeeb, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia (Berkeley, 1998); Adeeb Khalid, “Russian History and the Debate over Orientalism,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 4, no. 1 (Fall 2000): 691-99; Knight Nathaniel, “Grigor'ev in Orenburg, 1851-1862: Russian Orientalism in the Service of Empire?Slavic Review 59, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 74100 ; Knight Nathaniel, “On Russian Orientalism: A Response to Adeeb Khalid,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 1, no. 4 (Fall 2000): 701-15; Terry Martin, Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union 1923-1939 (Ithaca, 2001); Douglas Northrop, Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia (Ithaca, 2004); Paula A. Michaels, “Medical Propaganda and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Kazakhstan, 1928-41,” Russian Review 59, no. 2 (April 2000): 159-78; Slezkine Yuri, “Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Socialism,” Russian Review 59, no. 2 (April 2000): 227-34; and several chapters in Suny Ronald Grigor and Martin Terry, eds., A State of Nations: Empire and Nation-Making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin (Oxford, 2001), including Terry Martin, “Affirmative Action Empire: The Soviet Union as the Highest Form of Imperialism,” 67-90; Douglas Taylor Northrop, “Nationalizing Backwardness: Gender, Empire and Uzbek Identity,” 191-220; and Ronald Grigor Suny, “The Empire Strikes Out: Imperial Russia, ‘National’ Identity, and Theories of Empire,” 23-66.

2. For example, Adeeb Khalid and Nathaniel Knight debated the applicability of Edward Said's insights on orientalism to the Soviet case. See Khalid, “Russian History and the Debate over Orientalism,” and Knight, “On Russian Orientalism: A Response to Adeeb Khalid.“

3. Hirsch, “Toward an Empire of Nations“; Northrop, Veiled Empire; Slezkine, “Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Socialism.” Slezkine rightly points out the importance of the “Tambov test“: did party workers from the center treat peripheral villages in Siberia with any more colonial disdain than peripheral villages in Kazakhstan? I am arguing that the dynamics of Soviet empire stem not from ethnic difference between the center and periphery but from the dominance of the culture of the center (Moscow and Leningrad) over all peripheral cultures.

4. Thanks to Adeeb Khalid for help in developing this point in particular, though he may not agree with the conclusion I have reached.

5. This approach to postcolonialism comes from Prakash Gyan, “Introduction: After Colonialism,” in Prakash Gyan, ed., After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements (Princeton, 1995), 317 . Within the literature on the Soviet Union, Suny, Slezkine, and Northrop also apply this approach. See Northrop, Veiled Empire; Yuri Slezkine, From Savages to Citizens: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Princeton, 1994); Slezkine, “Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Socialism“; Suny, “The Empire Strikes Out.“

6. David Chioni Moore has succinctly described the fruitful exchange that could take place between postcolonial and post-Soviet studies and has cogently critiqued the neglect of the Soviet case by theorists of colonialism and postcolonialism. Moore David Chioni, “Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post-in Post-Soviet? Notes Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique,“ Publications of the Modern Language Association 116, no. 1 (January 2001): 111-28.

7. Postcolonial theory has yet to develop within Central Asia. Postcolonial critique is generally the result of intellectual hybridity, as individuals from the periphery use the intellectual devices of the center to construct their critique, though there is also a strong tradition in postcolonial theory of grassroots critique. On the hybrid perspective, see Bhabha Homi, “The Postcolonial and the Postmodern: The Question of Agency,” in The Location of Culture (London, 1994), 171-97; and for a scathing critique of this perspective's divorce from the grassroots, see Ahmad Aijaz, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London, 1992). The development of postcolonial theory in relation to Central Asia is challenged by the fact that potential critics should be Central Asian intellectuals using the tools of Russian academia to critique Russian colonial domination. But this presents a problem in that Russian academia is caught up in its own reformation, which involves discarding its old set of Marxist-Leninist theoretical tools while simultaneously searching for replacements. In no other case of postcolonialism have potential critics turned to a crumbling center for their foil. In practice, most Central Asian intellectuals are turning to the academies of Europe and the U.S. to formulate their critiques, resulting in discourses that may be seen as overly western, pro-capitalist, or incomprehensibly postmodern by ordinary people in Central Asia. Thus we can expect postcolonial critique coming from Central Asia to be more divorced from the grassroots than most.

8. Between 1995 and 2004 I conducted fourteen months of fieldwork in Uzbekistan, based in Tashkent, interviewing sixty-seven cultural elites and observing cultural events ranging from folk games to Uzbek-language theater. The focus of my research in 1996 was on the mass theatrical spectacles that take place on major national holidays, though I also attended other theatrical performances ranging from professional productions to folklore contests. I also conducted archival research on cultural institutions in Uzbekistan during the late Soviet period. In 1998 and 2002 I focused more on professional theater and attended several productions in Tashkent and interviewed several theater directors, theater critics, and employees of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs's theater department.

9. Becker Howard, Art Worlds (Berkeley, 1982); Peterson Richard A., “Culture Studies through the Production Perspective: Progress and Prospects,” in Crane Diana, ed., The Sociology of Culture: Emerging Theoretical Perspectives (Oxford, 1994); Crane Diana, Kawashima Nobuko, and Kawasaki Kenichi, Global Culture: Media, Arts, Policy, and Globalization (New York, 2002).

10. Hirsch, “Toward an Empire of Nations“; Northrop, Veiled Empire; Slezkine, “Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Socialism.“

11. For scholarly examinations of dance and music respectively, see Doi Mary Masayo, Gender, Gesture, Nation: Dance and Social Change in Uzbekistan (Westport, 2002); Levin Theodore, The Hundred Thousand Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia (and Queens, New York) (Bloomington, 1996). For a more detailed overview of Uzbek theater, see Laurel Victoria Gray, “Uzbekistan,” in Rubin Don, Chaturvedi Ravi, Majumdar Ramendu, Pong Chua Soo, and Tanokura Minoru, eds., The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theater, vol. 5, Asia/Pacific (New York, 1998), 450-66. For a local, pro-modern perspective on the theatrical scene in Tashkent, see Mark Vail', “Paradoksy o teatre i obshchestvennom mnenii,“ Ijtimoiy Fikr/Obshchestvennoe mnenie/Public Opinion 1, no. 1 (1998): 96-98.

12. Adams Laura L., “Invention, Institutionalization, and Renewal in Uzbekistan's National Culture,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 2, no. 3 (1999): 355-73; Brubaker Rogers, “Nationhood and the National Question in the Soviet Union and Post-Soviet Eurasia: An Institutional Account,” Theory and Society 23, no. 1 (1994): 4778 ; Yuri Slezkine, “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism,” Slavic Review 53, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 414-52; Suny Ronald Grigor, The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution and the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford, 1993). On another socialist case, see Verdery Katherine, What Was Socialism and What Comes Next? (Princeton, 1996), chapter 4.

13. On the ways that global norms legitimate national practices, see Meyer John W., “The World Polity and the Authority of the Nation-State,” in Bergesen Albert J. Z., ed., Studies of the Modern World-System (New York, 1980); Meyer John W., Boli John, Thomas George M., and Ramirez Francisco O., “World Society and the Nation-State,” American Journal of Sociology 103, no. 1 (1997): 144-81; Thomas Risse and Kathryn Sikkink, “The Socialization of International Human Rights Norms into Domestic Practices: Introduction,“ in Risse Thomas, Ropp Stephen C., and Sikkink Kathryn, eds., The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (Cambridge, 1999), 138 ; Finnemore Martha and Sikkink Kathryn, “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change,” International Organization 52, no. 4 (1998): 887917 .

14. Kennedy Michael D., ed., Envisioning Eastern Europe: Postcommunist Cultural Studies (Ann Arbor, 1994); Eglitis Daina Stukuls, Imagining the Nation: History, Modernity, and Revolution in Latvia (University Park, 2002). On using the communist past to critique contemporary capitalist culture, see Szemere Anna, Up from the Underground: The Culture of Rock Music in Postsocialist Hungary (University Park, 2001).

15. Eglitis , Imagining the Nation; Catherine Wanner, Burden of Dreams: History and Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine (University Park, 1998); Nayereh Tohidi, ‘“Guardians of the Nation': Women, Islam and the Soviet Legacy of Modernization in Azerbaijan,” in Bodman Herbert L. and Tohidi Nayereh, eds., Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity (Boulder, 1998), 137-62; and in the same volume, Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, “Between Lenin and Allah: Women and Ideology in Tajikistan,” 163-86.

16. See the introduction to Tishkov Valery, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict in and after the Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame (London, 1997); Smith Graham, Law Vivien, Wilson Andrew, Bohr Annette, and Allworth Edward, Nation-Building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands: The Politics of National Identities (Cambridge, Eng., 1998). On the broader phenomenon of the dependence of postsocialist discourse on the discourse of die old regime, see Szemere, Up from the Underground. On the Soviet construction of the past, see Adams, “Invention, Institutionalization, and Renewal“; Djumaev Alexander, “Power Structures, Culture Policy, and Traditional Music in Soviet Central Asia,” in Christensen Dieter, ed., 1993 Yearbook for Traditional Music (New York, 1993), 4350 .

17. Hirsch argues that the early Soviet regime was attempting to implement a new nonimperialistic model of colonialism. Hirsch, “Toward an Empire of Nations.” On Soviet hierarchies of culture in Uzbekistan, see Adams Laura L., “What is Culture? Schemas and Spectacles in Uzbekistan,” Anthropology of East Europe Review 16, no. 2 (1998): 6571 .

18. Allworth Edward A., The Modern Uzbeks from the Fourteenth Century to the Present: A Cultural History (Stanford, 1990); Khalid, Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform.

19. My sources on colonial-era Uzbek theater are Mamadzhan Rakhmanov, Uzbekskii teatrs drevneishikh vremen do 1917 goda (Tashkent, 1981); Schuyler Eugene, Turkistan: Notes of a Journey in Russian Turkistan, Khokand, Bukhara, and Kuldja (New York, 1877); Shermukhamedov Said, O natsionainom forme sotsialisticheskoi kul'tury uzbekskogo naroda (Tashkent, 1961); Arminius Vambery, Sketches of Central Asia: Additional Chapters on My Travels, Adventures, and on the Ethnology of Central Asia (London, 1868); Wheeler Geoffrey, The Modern History of Soviet Central Asia, 2d ed. (Westport, 1965); Qoraboev Usmon, Badii-ommavii tadbirlar (Tashkent, 1986); Qoraboev Usmon, Uzbekiston bairamlari (Tashkent, 1991).

20. Gray, “Uzbekistan“; Khalid, Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform; Rakhmanov, Uzbekskii teatr.

21. Khalid, Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform.

22. Allworth , Modern Uzbeks from the Fourteenth Century to the Present, 147-52.

23. This argument is also made in Khalid, Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform. This attitude persisted late into the Soviet period. For example, I. Ergeshev looked down on Uzbek pastimes such as visiting and drinking tea, exchanging gossip and stories, which he labels “uncultured” activities. Ergeshev I., Istoriko-sotsiologicheskoe issledovanie kul'tury Uzbekistana (Tashkent, 1985), 54 .

24. Theater critic, interview, Tashkent, 14 May 1998. A note on quotations: I promised confidentiality to most of my interviewees, so no names will be used in identifying interview quotes. Most quotations are from interview notes taken by hand, though some are from transcriptions of taped interviews. For another contemporary evaluation of Jadid theater, see Sh. Rizaev, ‘Jadid ma'rifatchiligi va teatr,” in Jadidchilik: islohot, iangilanish, mustaqillik va taraqqiyot uchun kurash, Turkiston va Bukhoro Jadidchiligi tarikhiga iangi chizgilar (Tashkent, 1999).

25. Slezkine , “Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Socialism,” 231 .

26. Gray, “Uzbekistan“; Doi, Gender, Gesture, Nation. On the dramaturgy of this period, see Kary-Niiazov T. N., Ocherki istorii kul'tury sovetskogo Uzbekistana (Moscow, 1955). 2 V. Uzbek SSR Goslitizdat, A Brief Reference Book on Theatrical, Scientific and Cultural Instructive Establishments (Tashkent, 1958).

28. On Turkmenistan's attitude toward “alien” art forms, see (last consulted 15 November 2004).

29. O'zTeatr official, interview, Tashkent, 20 September 2002.

30. On the relationship between modernity and disciplinary regimes, see Foucault Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Sheridan Alan (New York, 1979). I develop this point more fully in the conclusion.

31. Kennedy, Envisioning Eastern Europe; Eglitis, Imagining the Nation.

32. Theater director, interview, Tashkent, 17 April 1996.

33. My dissertation examines this process in detail. Adams Laura L., Celebrating Independence Arts, Institutions and Identity in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan (PhD diss., University of California, 1999).

34. The government's anti-Islam campaign of the last several years has put pressure on artists to find compelling historical themes that predate the arrival of Islam in Transoxiana. On the anti-Islam campaign, see “Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb ut-Tahrir,” Central Asia Briefing, Osh/Brussels: International Crisis Group, (last consulted 15 November, 2004). Much of the new theater being produced in Uzbekistan deals with themes from the pre-Islamic period, even though this means that Uzbekistan's contemporary national identity is being shaped by the history of the various Persian groups such as the Soghdians, who lived in Transoxiana before the Turkic Uzbeks arrived in the fifteenth century. This is an especially sensitive issue given the repression of the Persian Tajik culture in Uzbekistan today and the rivalry between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over who has the right to possess their previously shared history. For more on these issues, see Torbakov Igor, “Tajik-Uzbek Relations: Divergent National Historiographies Threaten To Aggravate Tensions,” (last consulted 15 November 2004).

35. Theater director, interview, Tashkent, 12 September 2002.

36. Tashpulatova Nargis, “Bakhtiyor Turayev: Serving the Theatre,” San'at 2002, 3538 .

37. Theater director, interview, Tashkent, 17 May 1998.

38. Theater director, interview, Tashkent, 12 September 2002.

39. For more information, see (last consulted 17 November 2004).

40. As I argue in Laura L. Adams, “Globalization without Capitalism: Modernity and Cultural Form in Central Asia” (paper, American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Ga., 2003), this is different from processes described in the globalization literature as syncretism (a blending of two things), hybridity (a new thing with the features of two or more other things), or glocalization (adding local cosmetic changes to a thing). It more closely resembles Hannerz's concept of creolization (the enrichment of a common structure with culturally local variations). It is also similar to the phenomenon referred to by Roland Robertson as “the particularization of universalism.” Ulf Hannerz, “Scenarios for Peripheral Cultures,” in King Anthony D., ed., Culture, Globalization and the World- System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity (Minneapolis, 1997), 107-28; Roland Robertson, “Social Theory, Cultural Relativity and the Problem of Globality,” in the same volume, 73-74.

41. Opera singer, interview, Tashkent, 6 September 2002.

42. Ibid.

43. Theatrical Institute employee, interview, Tashkent, 14 September 2002.

44. For more on this trend in music, see Djumaev, “Power Structures, Culture Policy, and Traditional Music in Soviet Central Asia“; Levin, Hundred Thousand Fools of God, esp. chapter 1; Tomoff Kiril, “Uzbek Music's Separate Path: Interpreting ‘Anticosmopolitanism' in Stalinist Central Asia, 1949-52,” Russian Review 63, no. 2 (April 2004): 212-40.

45. Music critic, interview, Tashkent, 19 May 1998.

46. Institute of Culture employees, conversation, Tashkent, 17 May 1998.

47. Theatrical Institute employee, interview, Tashkent, 14 September 2002.

48. Theater critic, interview, Tashkent, 5 September 2002.

49. Russian Youth Theater director and employees, interview, Tashkent, 19 September 2002.

50. Ibid.

51. For a general theory of cultural form, see Williams Raymond, The Sociology of Culture (New York, 1981), especially chapter 6 on theatrical form. For an analysis of theatrical form in another state-dominated context, see Berezin Mabel, “The Organization of Political Ideology: Culture, State and Theater in Fascist Italy,” American Sociological Review 56, no. 5 (1991): 639-51; and Berezin Mabel, “Cultural Form and Political Meaning: Statesubsidized Theater, Ideology, and the Language of Style in Fascist Italy,” American Journal of Sociology 99, no. 5 (1994): 1237-86.

52. For example, Said Edward, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1993).

53. See Berezin, “Cultural Form and Political Meaning,” for a sophisticated argument about die ways that form conveys meaning.

54. As Tomoff points out in die case of Uzbek music, this took place in the Soviet period, as well. Tomoff, “Uzbek Music's Separate Path,” 218.

55. Theatrical Institute employee, interview, Tashkent, 14 September 2002.

56. Tomoff also makes this case in his study of Uzbek music. Tomoff, “Uzbek Music's Separate Path,” especially 238.

57. Raymond Williams discusses the difference between dominant and residual cultural forms, the latter often coexisting with the former. Williams, Sociology of Culture.

58. The introduction of European-style theater in India had similar liberatory and transformative effects: see Richmond Farley P., Swann Darius L., and Zarrilli Phillip B., eds., Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance (Honolulu, 1990). Here I see a theoretical parallel to Partha Chatterjee's argument about “derivative discourses“: by using a nationalist discourse to gain independence, subalterns trade colonial domination for an epistemological domination by a western, rational mode of thinking. Marilyn Ivy also illustrates a similar “trap of modernity” in the search for authentic culture in Japan. Chatterjee Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (Minneapolis, 1993); Ivy Marilyn, Discourses of the Vanishing: Modernity, Phantasm, Japan (Chicago, 1995).

59. My usage of the term “articulates” comes from Robert Wuthnow, Communities of Discourse: Ideology and Social Structure in the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and European Socialism (Cambridge, Mass., 1989).

60. Here I am borrowing from Foucault's analysis of modernity, as found for example in Foucault, Discipline and Punish.

61. Powell Brian, ‘Japan's First Modern Theater: The Tsukiji Shogekijo and Its Company, 1924-26,” Monumenta Nipponica 30, no. 1 (1975): 6985 .

62. I explore the issue of Soviet modernity in greater detail in Adams, “Globalization without Capitalism.” On Russian and Soviet modernity, see Hoffmann David L., “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism,” in Hoffmann David L. and Kotsonis Yanni, eds., Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices (New York, 2000), 245-60. On multiple modernities, see Nestor Garcia Cancilini, Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, trans. Christopher L. Chiappari and Silvia L. Lopez (Minneapolis, 1995); François Bourricaud, “Modernity, ‘Universal Reference’ and the Process of Modernization,” in Eisenstadt S. N., ed., Patterns of Modernity, volume 1, The West (New York, 1987), 1221 ; Eisenstadt S. N., “Introduction: Historical Traditions, Modernization and Development,” in the same volume, 1–11 ; Ivy, Discourses of the Vanishing.

63. McLuhan Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York, 1964).

64. Williams, Sociology of Culture.

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