The following article is dedicated to the visual archive, exhibited throughout the Marshrutka project’ final conference ‘Spatial dynamics of informal and shared mobilities’ November 8-10, 2018, Technical University Berlin. Here you can have a look at the entire Marshrutka Stories – A Visual Archive.
We devote this visual archive to the memory of Rustam Abdunazarov, our beloved colleague from Khudjand Tajikistan.
We thank all the partners of the Marshrutka project: PhD students: Tonio Weicker, Darkhan Medeuov, Cholpon Turdalieva, Mikheil Svanidze
Post-doctoral Researchers: Lela Rekhviashvili, Wladimir Sgibnev
Doctoral Supervisors: Alima Bissenova, Emil Nasritdinov, Florian Mühlfried, Hans-Liudger Dienel, Ingeborg Baldauf, Joseph Salukvadze, Nabijon Rakhimov, Oksana Zaporozhets, Peter Lindner, Sebastian Lentz
Student Assistants: Clara Athenstaedt, Henri Schauer
Exhibit Curators: Lela Rekhviashvili, Jesse Vogler
Introduction: Marshrutka Stories – A Visual Archive
It is hard to study marshrutkas. They are elusive; there are no clear criteria on what a marshrutka is or on what a marshrutka is not. They differ by color, size and shape. They differ in whom they serve, who drives them, who owns them, who governs them. They differ in the ways they operate, the way routes are laid out, the way they are standardised. Rules of behaviour in a marshrutka also differ. They are quietly codified, not easy to comprehend, requiring familiarity and insiders’ knowledge. They change, adjust, and adapt quickly. They shrink and expand, they occupy public space but at points become invisible. They simultaneously enable and confront. They signify diverse, and at points contradictory, things for different people at different times. They have been markers of the decay of Soviet infrastructure and of a Soviet vision of modernity. They have also signified a new entrepreneurial spirit of capitalist modernity, of flexibility, freedom of choice, and the power of consumer demand. They have been demonized for being pre-modern, unruly, overcrowded and dangerous, while simultaneously representing locally divergent forms of solidarity, sociability, reciprocity, and sharing.
It also is easy to study marshrutkas. They are unforgettable. Everyone who experienced a marshrutka ride has their own story about it. They are omnipresent and indispensable to the everyday experience of mobility in a majority of urban and rural spaces of the post-Soviet region. People might talk of marshrutkas with hate, fear, and tiredness, or alternately, with love, humor, empathy, and nostalgia. But, they will always talk passionately and enthusiastically. It is easy to relate to marshrutkas. It’s easy to have personal stories. Often the intimacy of a marshrutka space unites a diversity of narratives. Intimacy as a sometimes-unwanted consequence of a tight physical space, but also a result of the lack of rules, a constant need to negotiate – hence to communicate, perform, and confront one another, and to claim norms, identities, and desires. Marshrutkas adapt to occupy existing spaces and infrastructures, while they also transform and construct new spaces as they do so. They bring vehicles together, but also people, commerce and knowledge. They create rhythms, benchmarks, place names. Marshrutkas are interwoven with local politics – subject to politician’s promises of affordability and access, on the one hand, or removal and replacement on the other. Through it all, marshrutkas drive on – and with consummate ease erase some of the more enduring binaries between social processes and spatial forms that otherwise resist easy theoretical closure.
The following visual archive does no justice either to the complexity of the marshrutka mobility phenomenon nor to the three year’s long research pursued by doctoral and post-doctoral researchers of the Marshrutka Project, officially known as ‘Fluid mobilities for cities in transformation: Spatial dynamics of marshrutkas in Central Asia and the Caucasus’, generously funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Instead, it offers a modest and inconsistent collection of marshrutka-related stories and visuals. It exposes a tiny share of the diversity of ways marshrutkas can be an entry point to understanding post-Soviet socio-spatial and political-economic transformations.