Accepted paper:

'We sit and wait': labour migration and temporality in Guliston, southern Tajikistan


Diana Ibanez Tirado (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the act of waiting for labour migrants to return to their home-village in southern Tajikistan. Described as a passive act of sitting, waiting was practiced as a set of dynamic and contingent activities that ensured village people did not let time pass unmarked.

Paper long abstract:

There are few countries in the world today that generate a higher proportion of their gross domestic product (GDP) from remittances than Tajikistan. In 2008, when migration to Russia reached its peak, foreign transfers to Tajikistan constituted nearly 50% of the country's GDP. I examine in this paper the pending return of three male labour migrants who work in Russia to their home-village in Guliston, southern Tajikistan. The act of 'waiting' to return was often described by the migrants' families in the village as a passive act of 'sitting'. I analyse the ways in which waiting actually provides Guliston's villagers with opportunities to 'invest' in the future, and shape and update their everyday routines in the face of contingency and unexpectedness. Focusing on the mundane everyday activities envisioned as 'waiting', I suggest, displaces the significance of migration both as a rite of passage for men and as something best understood in terms of its impact on migrants' wives. I argue that, because 'waiting' is accomplished in Guliston as a set of dynamic and contingent activities, people in the village are constantly engaged in creative ways of renewing their expectations about the future beyond simply 'sitting', longing or killing time (activities that inaccurately characterise the daily lives of those who do not migrate). I also suggest that, in the same way that waiting and sitting were not passive activities, the 'absent' labour migrants were never completely missing from the routines of daily life in their home-village.

panel P40
Ethnographies of waiting