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Mobilities, Boundaries, and Travelling Ideas

Philipp Schröder
Manja Stephan-Emmrich


Philipp Schröder et Manja Stephan-Emmrich

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1This book marks the end of a very pleasant intellectual journey for us. It began in spring 2013, when we started our research project with the admittedly technical title Translocal Goods — Education, Work, and Commodities Between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China, and the Arab Emirates. We aspired to explore new ways in which the exchange relations of mobile actors from Central Asia redefine their own (emic) as well as our (analytic) understanding about identity, ethnicity and Islam as they extend beyond common ‘containers’ of local community, nation state and regional setting. Within that conceptual frame, three individual scientific efforts each dealt with quite distinct themes:

  • Studying Islam Abroad — Students’ Mobility, Life-Chances and Translocal Muslim Practice in-between Tajikistan and the Arab World (Manja Stephan-Emmrich)

  • The ‘China-Business’ — An Ethnography of Kyrgyz Traders and their Translocal Livelihoods in-between ‘Home’, China, and Russia (Philipp Schröder)

  • Translocal Hijab — The Producing, Distributing and Consuming of Religious Clothing in-between Tajikistan and the United Arab Emirates (Abdullah Mirzoev)

2We have presented in detail the concepts and empirical data associated with these projects in an earlier publication (Schröder and Stephan-Emmrich 2014), as well as in the introductory chapter to this volume. But academia can only thrive to the degree it is supported by a generous institutional structure. In that regard, we could not have found a better partner than the Volkswagen Foundation (VolkswagenStiftung), and in particular the program Between Europe and the Orient — A Focus on Research and Higher Education in/on Central Asia and the Caucasus. Until 2017, the funding provided by the Volkswagen Foundation enabled us not only to conduct our individual ethnographic fieldwork in Central Asia, Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates, but also to engage actively within various circles of the scientific community.

3One such key event was a workshop held in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) in April 2015, which we jointly organized with our main local partner, the American University of Central Asia. Over three days, our group of participants intensively discussed draft papers that approached the notion of ‘translocality’ from all kinds of disciplinary, theoretical and methodological angles.

4Since then these early texts have been developed into full-fledged chapters, due in no small part to our invited discussant, Barak Kalir of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. As someone who shares our interest in mobility studies, but also draws from extensive research experience outside of Central Asia, his intuitive commentary provided the authors with a fresh perspective, challenging them to think beyond conventional approaches in their disciplines or focus areas. We are very grateful that Barak agreed to condense his thoughts on the contributions gathered here into a remarkable afterword.

5At the beginning of this book you will find a foreword by Nathan Light of Uppsala University in Sweden. We appreciate his thoughts as a senior scholar of Central Asian studies, because they allow us to situate our authors’ contributions within the wider perspective of (trans-) regional historic development. In this way, we believe, the fore- and afterwords complement the introduction in interesting ways: in the latter we could focus on the immediate conceptual issues of translocality as addressed by our authors, precisely because the fore-and afterword develop such invaluable contextual knowledge in regard to both area and mobility studies. Finally, we are grateful to all contributors, who all worked hard to meet the various expectations and shifting deadlines we set them.

6As this volume is an unusual assembly of authors for whom English is not their native language, we are particularly thankful to our language editor, Tricia Ryan. Due to her own background in social science research in Central Asia, her timely remarks improved the manuscript beyond grammar or style.

7We are indebted once more to the Volkswagen Foundation for agreeing to provide additional funds to support the publication of this research in Open Access format. In that regard, many thanks also to Alessandra Tosi of Open Book Publishers, whose patience and careful management were invaluable during this book’s production process. Furthermore, we are grateful to Bianca Gualandi and Lucy Barnes, also from OBP, for supporting us in matters of visual design and language-editing. Nora Bernhardt, Karin Teuber and Fiona Smith of Humboldt-Universität of Berlin have been crucial assets to our project since 2013, and their enthusiastic support for our common research-and publishing-efforts is very much appreciated.

8Finally, we do not see the present volume as an end to our exploration of translocality, but rather as a new beginning. We believe that beyond this collective contribution, presented on the following pages, translocality has much more descriptive and analytical potential to be uncovered. Examples of such potential include conceptual innovation in the field of ‘new area studies’, the anthropology of emotions, internet studies, or philosophical approaches to mobility and place, as is outlined in the foreword, introduction and afterword of this volume.

Berlin, February 2018


Post-doctoral scholar and lecturer at the Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany). His current research project is entitled ‘The “China-Business” — An Ethnography of Kyrgyz Traders and their Translocal Livelihoods in-between “Home”, China, and Russia’. He has published on the topics of identity and integration, urban spaces and mobilities, youth cultures and entrepreneurship, with a particular focus on Kyrgyzstan.

Junior Professor of Islam in Asian and African Societies at the Institute for Asian and African Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany). In her current anthropological book project, she is investigating the complex entanglements of translocal Islamic education networks, Tajik youth’s work experiences, and reform-minded endeavours in Tajikistan, the Gulf, and the wider Middle East. She has published several articles and book chapters on Islamic lifestyles, youth and education, migration and mobility, and Muslim business networks in Dubai.


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