Review of the book, The Spectacular State: Culture and National Identity in Uzbekistan, by Laura Adams

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Book/Media Review

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International Sociology





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doi: 10.1177/0268580913477954a


Laura Adams’s complex and engaging work, The Spectacular State: Culture and National Identity in Uzbekistan, describes the planning and production of giant holiday spectacles in Uzbekistan. All states use ritual to shape and control the meanings of national symbols, says Adams, but a ‘spectacular state’ uses ritual and expressive culture ‘as one of the primary means of communication with the citizenry’ (p. 96, emphasis in original). Adams studies the holiday spectacles commemorating Independence Day (1 September) and Navro’z (21 March, a holiday marking the beginning of spring). These spectacles are million-dollar-plus extravaganzas modeled after the Olympic Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, and they involve thousands of dancers, musicians, actors, set designers, and others. The live shows are exclusive events, attended by a few thousand elite guests and broadcast on national television (most citizens turn the television on to the correct channel, but do not watch the broadcast closely, Adams finds). Adams’s focus is less on reception and political impact than on what the festivals mean to those who produce them. In order to understand this, she attends planning meetings and rehearsals leading up to the spectacles, interviews the artists responsible for writing and directing them, and analyzes the taped broadcasts.

Adams’s information primarily comes from ‘cultural elites’, those ‘who received higher education in the arts or cultural studies and who were employed professionally in the arts or culture’ (p. 15). Like the Soviet Union in the past, Uzbekistan lacks a vibrant private-sector art scene. Instead, most representatives of the cultural elite are employed by the Ministry of Culture (Adams’s informants are shocked when she admits the United States does not have a Ministry of Culture), which may be why Adams never seems to be comfortable calling her informants ‘artists’. Although involvement in …


Culture, holidays, national identity, national symbols, Uzbekistan



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