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Abstract

This dissertation examines the creation of a “state public sphere” (Rus. obshchestvennost’, Uzb. jamoatchilik), or a nexus of state-sponsored mass institutions and media, in 1930s Uzbekistan. The project focuses on a cohort of local activists in 1930s Uzbekistan that can be termed “mediators” in two senses. First, they stood between Moscow and Uzbekistan, organizing Central Asians around state-sponsored institutions. Second, they worked through cultural production to imagine how socialism could take shape in a mostly agrarian, predominantly Muslim society with close links to Iran and the Ottoman Empire — a far cry from the societies where Marxism-Leninism was forged. At the heart of the state public sphere was a paradox. It existed to mobilize Uzbekistan’s masses for top-down state agendas, most prominently collectivization and the cotton monoculture. At the same time, it functioned through mass participation, and thereby created the conditions of possibility for self-organization and creative work that the state could neither predict nor control. Each chapter examines this dynamic through the lens of a single institution or medium. Chapter 1 examines the Red Teahouse, by far the most widespread state-sponsored institution in 1930s Uzbekistan. Teahouses had long been popular venues for men to socialize in Central Asia. When mediators attempted to turn the teahouse red, they both capitalized on its pre-existing popularity and wrestled with unsanctioned forms of sociability that persisted even under state patronage. Similarly, Chapter 3 shows that the Writers’ Union of Uzbekistan, founded by decree from Moscow in 1932, created social networks and institutional norms that sometimes aided, and other times frustrated state agendas for women’ “emancipation” and mass outreach. Chapter 2 shows how, through music circles at Red Teahouses, song transformed from a medium of personal patronage to a medium of state publicity in 1930s Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, state institutions continued to provide harbor for personal patronage networks in music, and facilitated the continued presence of unsanctioned musical forms. Chapter 4 examines the Socialist Realist novel as a medium for imagining the state public in Uzbekistan. As Uzbek novelists attempted to imagine a socialist public in Central Asia, they exposed the faultlines in that project, particularly with respect to gender integration. Because the state public sphere so consistently marginalized women, Chapter 5 shows how some women managed to participate through wearing luxury textiles, and through describing those textiles in poetry and autobiography, or “textile-texts.” In a political moment oriented toward mass production, women thus became integrated into the state public primarily through consumption. The conclusion traces the long-term legacy of the state public sphere that took shape in 1930s Uzbekistan, and brings this case study into conversation with debates about the transformation of the public sphere in the global age of mass society. Overall, it posits “Soviet publicity” as an analytical category that complements Soviet subjectivity and facilitates comparison between the Soviet Union and other twentieth-century mass societies.

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