Marshrutkas are running, and running, and running…

Dushanbe 4When you have spent some time in the post-Soviet space, you certainly are acquainted with marshrutkas — those ubiquitous minibuses which, more often than not, form the backbone of the public transport systems in urban and rural areas of the former Soviet Union. Strangely enough, there is but very few research on them so far. In order to close this gap, two research projects have seen the light at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, in close connection to the research endeavours of the ira.urban team.

A small fieldwork grant from the Gerda Henkel Foundation has allowed me to carry out fieldwork in Northern Tajikistan on the topic of “Artefacts of mobility, artefacts of power”, looking into changing constellations of state-society relations in post-Soviet states and its repercussions on urban and regional space production. Marshrutkas are being understood as “politicised armature” (Jensen 2009) and “potential venues for new articulations of politics” (ibid.). The research project takes up the hypothesis that mobility of objects and people alike is a space-defining phenomenon (Urry 2007), both relating to local and translocal actor contellations. This concerns the mobility of marshrutkas themselves, as well as the mobility of objects and people within the marshrutkas. The project is embedded in current discussions on the mobility and power nexus, and strives to become a relevant contribution to a movement-driven social science (Büscher 2009). You can download the project poster (in German), and put some nice marshrutka pictures on your wall, if you like.

A second fieldwork is planned for autumn 2015. A research article is under review with the “Central Asian Survey” and will, hopefully, see the light in the course of 2015. This first stage laid the ground for applying for a Volkswagen Foundation grant with a much larger follow-up project entitled „Fluid Mobilities for Cities in Transformation –Spatial dynamics of marshrutkas in Central Asia and the Caucasus”.

Khujand 1The project looks into the emergence of new orders in the fields of economy, morale, urban development and migration in post-Soviet space through the lens of marshrutkas. The project is subdivided into five complementary PhD dissertations, each one jointly supervised by two project partners and discussing in detail specific aspects of the marshrutka mobility phenomenon. A post-doc based at the IfL covers the topic from a transnationally comparative perspective, brings together the respective case study results, and ensures the project’s organisational and conceptual coherence.

Apart from closing urgent research gaps, the project aims at strengthening local research infrastructures, enabling long-lasting research cooperation, and setting up sustainable knowledge transfer mechanisms. In order to provide a high benefit to all participating partners, the project proposes a structured PhD training framework, consisting of summer schools, workshops, various outreach formats and tailored individual and network-wide trainings. The aim is to provide an international and interdisciplinary learning environment for educating highly skilled researchers, and to raise their local and international employability in science, politics, public service, private business or civil society.

The applications for the post-doctoral and PhD positions are closed now, and we expect to have the candidates selected by the end of August. So, expect to have a presentation of the entire team of marshrutkologists by then.