“Moral Future: Halal Businesses in Central Asia”
with Aisalkyn Botoeva of the George Washington University
The July 30 CESSI lecture is now available to stream here.
LECTURE DESCRIPTION: How do people in Central Asia understand the Islamic Economy and enact its principles in their day-to-day lives? In her 18-month research in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, she explored a wide range of sites within the burgeoning Islamic Business sector, from high-visibility financial firms to small and medium-sized businesses, and all the way down to bazaars and street stalls. In this talk, she focuses on one of the key arguments of her work – that the halal business is a space of ethical inquiry, exploration, experimentation, and debate for those who decide to adopt this form of business practice. When it comes to food, for example, there is a strong belief that the consumption of halal food can lead to physical and psychological cleansing and spiritual nourishment. Along with discussions of how people understand halal, she also presents contentious cases such as the one involving kymys [fermented mare’s milk], and whether it is halal (permissible)or haram (forbidden). Moreover, ideals of what constitutes halal have spilled over to various areas of business activities that go beyond entrepreneurs’ concern with the technical aspect of food production. Some of the key debates involve questions around bribes and corruption. Entrepreneurs voice their aspirations to earn their money through adal ish (here literally halal work, but in Kyrgyz generally means work based on good intentions) and ak söz (literally white words, but connotes words of wisdom and propriety). Exploring emic ethical vocabulary and repertoires among those involved in the halal business sheds light on broader processes through which halal economy is embedded in local cultures of doing business as well as being a pious Muslim. The talk aims to give a snapshot from an ethnographic study that aims to contribute to more “top-down” accounts of Islam and the economy in the region.
SPEAKER BIO: Aisalkyn Botoeva currently serves as a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for European, Russian & Eurasian Studies (IERES) of the George Washington University. She is a sociologist with broader research interests in socio-economic development, economic decision-making, and resilience in the face of uncertainty. Her past and current research experience is in topics of industrial revival in resource-poor contexts of Central Asia, entrepreneurship in the post-Soviet region, as well as the varying strategies and economic repertoires of action that entrepreneurs employ in this context. In addition to research, she taught a wide range of courses from Social Research Methods, to Globalization & Social Conflict, Leadership & Global Development both in Kyrgyzstan and the U.S. Her individual research has been funded by the Aga-Khan Foundation, Open Society Foundations as well as Hazeltine Fellowship of the Business, Organizations and Entrepreneurship Program at Brown University. The results of her individual and collaborative projects have been published in Politics & Society, Theory & Society, Families, Relationships and Societies, Post-Soviet Affairs, and Central Asian Survey among other journals.