I wrote a book. No, it didn’t happen just like that. It was more of a ten-year thing. Starting in 2004 as part of a PhD thesis, the story unfolded over the course of 10 years, included language training, a lot of reading and thinking, but most importantly spending a long time in a rural part of Kyrgyzstan, getting to know people who grew up there, people who were different from me in so many ways, who knew so much more about life and what it means to grow up and grow older amongst the people you love, but in a society that was changing rapidly. How did ‘the big change’ (the end of the Soviet Union) relate to the many small changes in a person’s course of life? How did people deal with the fact that the last century had come with a lot of unforseeable innovations impacting all spheres of life – from the economy to politics, religion and law? This book is a book about people not only coping with the fact that life is changing. It is about trying to understand the way in which they manage it – how do they order everyday life? And what role do ‘law’ and ‘custom’ play in this regard? My book is a legal anthropological exploration of people’s everyday lives. In it, I explore aspects of sociality which, at first sight, do not seem to involve law, but which are nevertheless shot through with it: funerals, village genealogies, veterans’ celebrations, mosque congregations…
I am happy about this book. It tells real stories that were told to me by real people. It tries to do justice to their own ways of reasoning. It takes their struggles and concerns serious and it stays with their perspective on life when translating what I have come to understand into the language of social anthropology. I wrote this book for myself, for I wanted to understand. Now I hope it will get read by others, too.
“Judith Beyer has done a magnificent job of unfolding current notions of legalism among the Kyrgyz of Talas province. Her prose is crystal clear, her ethnography is rich, and her theoretical engagement is stimulating and accessible. This book deserves a place on readers’ shelves alongside the best works on the anthropology of post-socialist Eurasia.”
Paolo Sartori, Institute of Iranian Studies, Vienna