Blood Ties and the Native Son: Poetics of Patronage in Kyrgyzstan

Blood Ties and the Native Son: Poetics of Patronage in Kyrgyzstan

Blood Ties and the Native Son: Poetics of Patronage in Kyrgyzstan

Blood Ties and the Native Son: Poetics of Patronage in Kyrgyzstan

Synopsis

A pioneering study of kinship, patronage, and politics in Central Asia, Blood Ties and the Native Son tells the story of the rise and fall of a man called Rahim, an influential and powerful patron in rural northern Kyrgyzstan, and of how his relations with clients and kin shaped the economic and social life of the region. Many observers of politics in post-Soviet Central Asia have assumed that corruption, nepotism, and patron-client relations would forestall democratization. Looking at the intersection of kinship ties with political patronage, Aksana Ismailbekova finds instead that this intertwining has in fact enabled democratization--both kinship and patronage develop apace with democracy, although patronage relations may stymie individual political opinion and action.

Excerpt

If I were to summarize this book in one sentence, I would probably proceed with something along the lines of “Aksana Ismailbekova has provided us with a wonderful and theoretically inspired ethnography on kinship and patronage in post-socialist Kyrgyzstan.” If I were to add a second sentence, this would go on to elaborate on the impact of both institutions on local economics and on national politics. That is to say, one key argument of Ismailbekova is that in local understanding there is no contradiction between patronage and democracy, as most of the political science literature would want us to believe, but that both are intricately entangled and, to a certain degree, mutually supportive. and for the very same reason, neither kinship nor patronage necessarily disappear with the appearance of “modernity.”

There would be nothing wrong with such a statement, but it would provide only a glimpse of what the author has to offer to the interested reader. All in all, this is what the book is all about, and it undoubtedly succeeds in making this point. in contrast to much of the recent scholarship, Ismailbekova shows us that patronage is neither an alternative path nor necessarily a contradiction to kinship but in the Kyrgyz case both institutions must be considered as closely interwoven and overlapping categories. This also implies that membership in either category is open to manipulative strategies to make things look neat and tight. Thus, definitions of kinship are stretched to include those linked in patron-client relationships, yet the latter are framed in a more hierarchical and reciprocal way than they actually are in order to correspond to social expectations of kin relations.

As such, one merit of this book is that it sets an important counterargument against scholarly as well as popular accounts of tribalism and clan politics in contemporary Central Asia. These all too often take a rather simplistic, and sometimes plainly wrong, concept of kinship and of local political processes as their starting point. and often they do not efficiently support their claims with, admittedly difficultly obtainable, data. Ismailbekova clearly shows, as have others before in less thorough ways, that on-the-ground patterns and motives for alliances are far more complex and flexible. This is not to say that nepotism and corruption do not exist. But they come in a variety of forms that might more aptly be labeled as networks or cliques, thus stripping them of their putatively archaic . . .

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