Negotiating Unfreedom: An (Auto-) Ethnography of Life at the Forefront of Academic Knowledge Production


This article analyses the negotiated and contingent nature of research access and limitations in a cooperative research project in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. It argues that even technically and legally ‘free’ academic research is often subject to a number of restrictions emanating from the politicization of research at the so-called frontiers of the global political economy of academic knowledge production. This frontier status and contested nature of knowledge and research is especially marked in Kyrgyzstan, where recent revolutions and social conflict have created a tense climate amidst authorities’ attempts to reassert their epistemic dominance. Against this background, the article analyses how the ‘politics of sovereignty’ employed in state actors’ attempts to curb intrusive research are equally present in the realization of cooperative research projects with different national and international (non-governmental) organizations/networks, whose members enact the research cooperation or hamper it in different ways, sometimes in ambiguous, sometimes in obvious manner. Further reflection is provided on the emotional and psychological factors which playing a role in the negotiation of access and the shaping of the overall research project. In conclusion, it is argued that the decisions, views and behaviour of people at the forefront of knowledge production in the global periphery cannot be subjected to moral binaries but need to be understood in terms of the role played by spontaneous reactions, inter-subjective sense-making processes and evaluations of people and projects over time.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20398573v3n1p77


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