Mitigating disaster: The Aral Sea and (post-)Soviet property

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The Aral Sea regression, the outcome of Soviet irrigation practices in Central Asia, is famous as one of the most serious ecological disasters of the twentieth century. This article examines Soviet policies to mitigate the sea's regression, in particular efforts to keep people in employment. I argue that property relations are intimately connected not only with the causes of environmental change but also with its effects, and explore this proposition through three case studies. First, I use archival materials to show how late Soviet bureaucrats framed the regression not as an environmental disaster but as a problem of living standards and employment, which shaped measures to address it. Secondly, I examine memories of the late Soviet period among fishermen in Aral villages, arguing that their experiences of the sea's regression were shaped both by their position within the Soviet fishery and by local understandings of property. Finally, I explore nostalgic narratives in the town of Aral'sk today, arguing that the history of environmental change is re-read through post-Soviet changes in property relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-376
Number of pages31
JournalGlobal Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Aral sea
  • Disaster
  • Fisheries
  • Property
  • Soviet union


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