In May 1992 in the newly independent state of Tajikistan—the Soviet Union had shortly before broken up—Tajiks began to fight each other in a brutal civil war. The war caused tens of thousands of deaths. People of all ages died in their homes and markets, on roads while fleeing the fighting, and on military battlefields. Some even starved. In June 1997 the main protagonists signed a peace accord. Many peace accords are unsuccessful, but the Tajik agreement was a decisive moment in a multi-year peace process that dramatically reduced the killing. In areas of Tajikistan once fractured by insecurity, violence, alienation and division, peace has taken hold.
Unfortunately the rest of the world has given little sustained attention to the unique aspects of that peace process, in which people as varied as ex-Communists and committed Muslims crafted a power-sharing arrangement. Scholars and other professionals may eventually ameliorate this oversight and bring to light the remarkable aspects of the Tajik peace process. I hope my sociocultural anthropology PhD research will help do that.
While I have not yet started my doctoral dissertation fieldwork proper, I have done pre-dissertation fieldwork in Gharm, Yazgulom, Khorog, Qurghonteppa, Kulob and Khujand.
My primary research question is simple: what time frameworks do Tajiks use as they build peace after the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan? War typically forcefully penetrates subjective experiences of time and place, affecting what people do and think long after the physical violence has ended. Who among a postwar population use which time frameworks? Surprisingly little is known about this. Scholars have identified several time frameworks prevalent during and after war, but what we do not know are the ways in which these and other time frameworks occur within a postwar population. Can we identify any patterns? For example, are non-combatant widows more likely to use a particular framework compared to ex-combatants? Theoretically I combine cutting-edge research on spatial time concepts from cognitive science with a concept of self found across the social sciences dating back to William James that distinguishes between I and Me. This combination is innovative, and is almost certainly genuinely unique among contemporary approaches to peacebuilding. My research will contribute a set of intellectual approaches and empirical insights that allow scholars and practitioners to more easily recognize and categorize time frameworks within postwar populations.
In addition to spatial time concepts, another major influence on my work is John Paul Lederach, particularly his book The Moral Imagination (2005). Lederach's theories on conflict transformation and peacebuilding have influenced many scholars and practitioners. He argues that the the violent past is often in front of people in protracted conflicts—that it makes practical sense for those in the midst of violent conflict to see the past as a generative energy—and concludes peacebuilders and other conflict professionals must "develop the art of living in multiple time and space spheres" (pp. 147-148).
To my great surprise, despite Lederach's influence few scholars have taken up his challenge to develop an expansive notion of time and peacebuilding. In fact I have yet to find a single published work that draws upon that aspect of his work.