Viva-voce examination – May 3, 18:00-19:00

On Thursday (May 3) at 18:00, Nurgul Zhanabayeva will be defending her thesis in a viva-voce examination. The viva is public and all are welcome to attend.

Room 8.105, School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Restrained by Uyat [Shame]: Culture of Dating and Romantic Relationships among Urban Kyrgyz Youth

This thesis is an exploratory qualitative study of the culture of premarital dating and romantic relationships among urban Kyrgyz youth in the city of Bishkek. Drawing from focus group discussions and individual in-depth interviews with young people, I aim to analyze socio-cultural norms and expectations regarding premarital relationships in Kyrgyz society, as well as to present young urbanites’ experiences of these phenomena. Applying the theory of dating and sexual scripts, I discuss what appropriate dating behaviors should be like in the given context. I argue that dating and romantic relationships are socially approved practices in Kyrgyz society mainly because they are seen as precursors to marriage – an important social institution.

However, the approval comes with certain limitations – among them, the most pronounced is the condemnation of premarital sex in relation to women. While young men allegedly enjoy the freedom of their sexuality, young Kyrgyz women are strongly discouraged from engaging in premarital sex. Uyat – a local concept of shame is used as a mechanism for controlling correct sexual performance, as well as an instrument of punishment for deviant behavior. Restrained by uyat, women are finding creative ways of upholding the social norms – their aim is neither subordination nor subversion, but rather finding new ways of operating in the given reality. Moreover, I posit that men, given their sexual freedom, also face sexual pressure, although of a different nature than women.

Furthermore, it is not only the larger society which sees premarital dating as a prelude to marriage, young people also view dating as leading to marriage. Thus, they approach the choice of a potential partner with care. Among the factors of primary importance for young people is one’s socio-economic status – such as quality of received education and financial background. Less important for young people are their prospective mate’s ethnic, religious and regional background, however, they understand that these factors are important for their families, relatives, and even the larger society.

Internal Advisers: Zohra Ismail Beben & Sofiya An
External Adviser: Dr. Noor Borbieva, Indiana University

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