Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia: Performing Politics

Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia: Performing Politics

Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia: Performing Politics

Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia: Performing Politics

Synopsis

With fresh and provocative insights into the everyday reality of politics in post-Soviet Central Asia, this volume moves beyond commonplaces about strong and weak states to ask critical questions about how democracy, authority, and justice are understood in this important region. In conversation with current theories of state power, the contributions draw on extensive ethnographic research in settings that range from the local to the transnational, the mundane to the spectacular, to provide a unique perspective on how politics is performed in everyday life.

Excerpt

Johan Rasanayagam, Judith Beyer, and Madeleine Reeves

What does politics look like in Central Asia? How is politics performed, and what is at stake? How should we, in fact, understand “the political” as a sphere of activity and what sort of object is “the state,” in Central Asia or elsewhere? Central Asia, in this collection, refers to the five former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. The post-Soviet Central Asian republics are relatively recent creations. Their territorial boundaries were established under Bolshevik rule in the 1920s, carved out of the former Tsarist administrative entity of Turkestan and the protectorates of Bukhara and Khiva. Soviet nationalities policy classified Central Asian populations into ethno-national groups, each associated with a distinct linguistic, cultural, and historical lineage and a defined territory. While not entirely arbitrary, Soviet policy and practice reified previously fluid registers of identification and belonging, and in some cases created entirely new nationality categories. Those ethno-national groups that were regarded as most advanced along a supposed evolutionary trajectory toward nationhood—the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Turkmens—were constituted as national republics within the framework of the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, its Central Asian republics were abruptly cut loose from the economic and political infrastructure that had sustained them. The ideological frame that had located individual citizens within an encompassing polity was lost along with it. The national leaderships were forced to reinvent their republics as independent nation-states. They have . . .

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