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[en] In the last three decades, community-based approaches have gained large acclamation worldwide as a way to promote sustainable and inclusive development but also, in ex-socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, as a way to support the postsocialist “transition” towards market economy. International donors have attempted to establish formal institutions for cooperation in local communities; among these, service cooperatives have promised a democratic and market-fit alternative to socialist collective farms. Kyrgyzstan’s liberalised economy after its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 has been a fertile ground for experiments with models of institutionalised cooperation – including agricultural cooperatives. However, today the dominant framing considers most cooperatives in the country as failed and explains this apparent failure with some forms of historically inherited negative attitude towards cooperation.
This research aims to provide an alternative reading of agricultural cooperatives in Kyrgzystan in order to generate affects more positive than the feelings of failure and inadequacy produced by the dominant framing. I thus focus on the promotion of agricultural cooperatives in rural Kyrgyzstan by international actors and on how local communities reinterpret and renegotiate a formal institution for cooperation promoted by external actors. I thereby illustrate how international actors uphold a specific model of cooperatives – as a tool on a prescribed route towards a teleological fantasy of development – and how local actors incorporate, and thereby reframe, this model in their everyday practices. I do this through an ethnographic engagement with villagers in Pjak, in the North-East of the country, and in particular with the practices and representations that emerge in relation to a local cooperative, Ak-Bulut.
My analysis represents an entry point for rethinking not only cooperatives but also well-established economic theories and models – not only in Kyrgyzstan or in other ex-socialist countries in CEE and the FSU, but globally. The focus on cooperative promotion, indeed, opens to a broader reflection on how communities and individuals locally rearticulate global processes of neoliberalisation and marketisation. I thus interrogate the ways in which hegemonic discourses on the economy, development and modernity produce particular kinds of subjectivities and affects and the consequences of this on material inequalities; simultaneously, I explore the room for individual agency – for resistance and contestation – that emerges from the discontinuities of these hegemonic discourses. As a way to reinforce and expand this agency, I propose a renewed approach – a postcapitalist, postfantasmatic and relational one – to cooperatives and cooperation in postsocialism that invites to assume an open, anti-essentialist stance to engage with communities in the here and now. This approach, I argue, is relevant (and indeed needed) also for other contexts globally, especially in the present context of rising nationalist and authoritarian forces.