Outstanding work. Living Language in Kazakhstan is a rare attempt to capture what the author names as the 'affective landscapes' of Kazakh spirituality. By focusing on the construction of intergenerational relationships within families and broader communities, Dubuisson demonstrates that the spirits of deceased ancestors play a central role in Kazakh social life, constituting a particular worldview historically rooted in an Inner Asia's belief system.
Eva-Marie Dubuisson provides a fascinating anthropological inquiry into the deeply ingrained presence of ancestors within the cultural, political, and spiritual discourse of Kazakhs. In a climate of authoritarianism and economic uncertainty, many people in this region turn to their forebearers for care, guidance, and advice, invoking them on a daily basis. This “living language” creates a powerful link to the past and a stable foundation for the present. Through Dubuisson's participatory, observational, and lived experience among Kazakhs, we witness firsthand the public performances and private rituals that show how memory and identity are sustained through an oral tradition of invoking ancestors. This ancestral dialogue sustains a unifying worldview by mediating questions of faith and morality, providing role models, and offering a mechanism for socio-political critique, change, and meaning-making. Looking beyond studies of Islam or heritage alone, Dubuisson provides fresh insights into understanding the Kazakh worldview that will serve students, researchers, GMOs, and policymakers in the region.
To understand politics in Kazakhstan, you need to understand Dubuisson's argument. She shows how many Kazakhs, through their activities, interactions and conversations, create a life-world where ancestors are experienced as playing an active, caring role. Because of their presence in everyday social interaction, ancestors take on a power to shape social reality and political discourse. They are invoked as role models, convey their spiritual energy to others, mediate individual relationships with God, and build communities based on immediate as well as fictive kinship.