Shared Reservoir as Irony: The Role of Social Identity in the Aral Sea Environmental Situation




Minde, Julie M.

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Social identity has been shown to significantly impact – or even to cause – conflicts. However, it appears to be a relatively unstudied influence in terms of situations of environmental crisis, Western development aid, and conflict over natural resources. This study attempts to address this gap using the case study of the Aral Sea environmental situation as it has played out in Uzbekistan. The hypothesis is that the Uzbek regime has been able to manipulate social identity of outsiders in order to fulfill its own agenda, garner benefits, and otherwise improve its means of control in Uzbekistan. The research investigates the role of history in Uzbekistan as well as post-Communist dynamics and factors and uses Charles Tilly’s mechanisms as a means of understanding the dynamics and processes involved in social identity manipulation. Additionally, Western professionals (e.g., academics, NGOs, IFIs, government workers) involved in the Aral Sea situation or related issues in Uzbekistan were targeted for study in order to determine their perceptions about the role of social identity in their work and in the situation in general. Interviews as well as an online survey were conducted. Results indicate that social identity has been a significant influence in the situation. However, the situation is extremely complex and requires further study.



Social Identity, Development, Uzbekistan, Aral Sea, Environment, Neoliberal Economics