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Olma, Nikolaos

Under the auspices of the state

Examining the endurance of Tashkent’s informal taxis




At a time when most large cities across the post-Soviet space have effectively formalised or eradicated their once ubiquitous fleets of informal taxis, in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, thousands of private car owners continue to offer paid trips to their fellow residents on a daily basis. Drawing on eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork, this article examines the remarkable endurance of this practice, locally known as taksovanie. It eschews popular conceptions of informal mobility as a token of institutional failure and attributes the nonformalisation of Tashkent’s informal taxis to the local authorities’ politically-driven active permissiveness on account of the taxis’ social embeddedness and the authorities’ striving for appeasement and social peace. This socalled “appeasement policy” relies on the delegation of the exertion of regulatory pressure to traffic police officers, whose habitual elasticity towards informal taxi drivers allows the authorities to meet their double goal of exhibiting regulatory power, on the one hand, and retaining an important survival strategy and a popular and affordable means of urban transport, on the other. The article thus uncovers the role of various levels of state authority in the production and endurance of Tashkent’s informal taxis, introducing the notion of the informality “under the auspices of the state” and illustrating how the state simultaneously produces informality by determining what is formal and consents to it whenever that serves its political goals.