Mathijs Pelkmans. Fragile Conviction: Changing Ideological Landscapes in Urban Kyrgyzstan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017

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Benjamin Martin Kaelin


With his monograph Fragile Conviction: Changing Ideological Landscapes in Urban Kyrgyzstan, Mathijs Pelkmans offers an ethnographic approach to the issues of ideology and conviction under the conditions of globalization. His goal is to shed light on the “mechanisms, by which individuals become committed to a cause and gain certainty about the meaning and value of the ideas involved” (p. 2). Based on the author’s extensive field research in Kyrgyzstan, the book grants insight into the everchanging political, economic, and social landscape in the post-Soviet world by focusing on abruptly emerging systems of ideas, which often vanish as quickly as they emerged. He also pays close attention to the often-changing meanings of certain ideological signifiers and thus their temporary character. The main question addressed is how such systems of ideas go viral, “how they come to matter in people’s lives” (p. 5). Therefore, the book is situated within debates about the so-called end of history and ideology, as well as the proposed ideological, spiritual, and moral vacuum in the post-Soviet era—which some others have described, on the contrary, as a time of ideological excess. Key to his analysis is a conceptual focus on “conviction,” which Pelkmans differentiates from ideology: while he sees ideology closely associated with dominant power, his concept of conviction aims to capture an “emotive energy that is produced in the connections between individuals” (p. 10). Conviction is, therefore, better suited to include political and religious belief systems and also emphasizes the relationship between subject and ideas.

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DOI: 10.25285/2078-1938-2018-10-3-110-113


Urbanism, Kyrgyzstan, Globalization, Social Landscape, Cultural Anthropology, Post-Soviet Time

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