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Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia

Performing Politics

Edited by Madeleine Reeves, Johan Rasanayagam, and Judith Beyer

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. vii-viii

Sources in several languages appear in this book. In choosing a system of transliteration we have aimed for consistency across chapters with regard to the names of people and places for ease of cross-referencing, while also remaining faithful to the language in which a comment was originally spoken in cases of...

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pp. ix-xii

This volume emerges from an ongoing conversation among a group of anthropologists and political scientists interested in exploring the everyday, localized practice of politics in Central Asia, drawing on long-term fieldwork in local languages. This conversation developed over e-mail, in reading groups, and at the...

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Introduction: Performances, Possibilities, and Practices of the Political in Central Asia

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pp. 1-26

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,...

Part 1. Staging the Political

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1. The Global Performance State: A Reconsideration of the Central Asian “Weak State”

John Heathershaw

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pp. 29-54

Strolling through Tajikistan’s capital city of Dushanbe in April 2010, almost twenty years after its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, one is bombarded with images of the state, the president who represents it, and his appearances on the global stage. The state and its personal embodiment are apparently everywhere—...

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2. Dialogic Authority: Kazakh Aitys Poets and Their Patrons

Eva-Marie Dubuisson

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pp. 55-77

In this chapter I describe a living poetic tradition in Central Asia: the form of aitys among Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, which is a staged verbal duel between two figures of akhyn, or poets.1 Speaking as and for regions, kin, ancestors, and audiences, poets claim to voice...

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3. Performing Democracy: State-Making through Patronage in Kyrgyzstan

Aksana Ismailbekova

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pp. 78-98

Based on fieldwork in a northern Kyrgyz village in 2007 and 2008, this chapter focuses on the interplay of localized democracy and patronage. Specifically, I draw on ethnographic materials to explore how the state was performed locally during the 2007 parliamentary electoral campaign, culminating in election day in December of that...

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4. “There is this law . . .”: Performing the State in the Kyrgyz Courts of Elders

Judith Beyer

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pp. 99-124

“We don’t have a state here anymore!” This was a common expression among the villagers of Aral and Engels.1 The claim referred back to Soviet times, when their joint kolkhoz had been part of a dense network of agricultural units that spanned the country... As the two villages were subject to the policies of Communist Party officials...

Part 2. Political Materials, Political Fantasies

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5. The Master Plan of Astana: Between the “Art of Government” and the “Art of Being Global”

Alima Bissenova

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pp. 127-148

Political scientists, sociologists, and urban theorists have long pointed to the changing function of the state in planning and regulating urban development in the neo-liberal market economy (Harvey 1989, 2000; Holston 1989; Caldeira and Holston 2005). Although from its inception, urban planning emerged as an “art of government” exercised...

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6. State Building(s): Built Forms, Materiality, and the State in Astana

Mateusz Laszczkowski

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pp. 149-172

With bells tolling in the background, a cityscape of scaffolding and whimsically shaped buildings was conjured up on stage. A hundred young construction workers in neat dark blue overalls and orange hardhats danced among the buildings to a lively, rhythmic music, with the noise of work beating in industrial harmony. Sparks and...

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7. The Bulldozer State: Chinese Socialist Development in Xinjiang

Ildikó Bellér-Hann

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pp. 173-197

This chapter explores ongoing modernization processes in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In recent years this region has been frequently labeled by the Western media as China’s “restive region” or “most troublesome province.” Situated in the northwest and constituting the largest...

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8. The Time of the Border: Contingency, Conflict, and Popular Statism at the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Boundary

Madeleine Reeves

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pp. 198-220

The river falls steeply in the upper Sokh valley, where Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan meet: a thin strip of greyblue surrounded on both sides by densely planted garden plots, apricot orchards, and adobe houses nestled amidst sheer rocks.1 Several kilometers downstream, the river irrigates a band of rice, wheat, and barley, stretching down...

Part 3. Moral Positionings

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9. Reclaiming Ma’naviyat: Morality, Criminality, and Dissident Politics in Uzbekistan

Sarah Kendzior

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pp. 223-242

In May 2008, Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov announced that he had penned a treatise on morality. Released three years after state military forces shot to death hundreds of citizens in the city of Andijan,1 High Morality—an Invincible Force (Yuksak Ma’naviyat— Yengilmas Kuch) discusses the moral caliber of the Uzbek people and offers guidance on how Uzbeks can attain moral greatness in a world hostile to its development...

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10. The Reshaping of Cities and Citizens in Uzbekistan: The Case of Namangan’s “New Uzbeks”

Tommaso Trevisani

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pp. 243-260

Two decades after Uzbekistan’s independence, this chapter focuses on the emergence of the “New Uzbeks,” a governmentally promoted citizenry that marks a shift from the early, unsettled period of postsocialism to a more consolidated phase of government rule over society in the second postsocialist decade. Situated in between the...

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11. Massacre through a Kaleidoscope: Fragmented Moral Imaginaries of the State in Central Asia

Morgan Liu

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pp. 261-284

here is a curious link between state and sentiment. People today often have strong sentiments about how their governments should work effectively and fairly. Those thoughts and feelings, however, are partly shaped by the states themselves. Governments, especially more “authoritarian” ones, put out characterizations about the nation’s...

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12. Cold War Memories and Post–Cold War Realities: The Politics of Memory and Identity in the Everyday Life of Kazakhstan’s Radiation Victims

Cynthia Werner and Kathleen Purvis-Roberts

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pp. 285-310

Asan, an elderly Kazakh man, was nineteen years old when the first nuclear test exploded near his village on August 29, 1949.1 Despite his young age, as a schoolteacher and a member of the Communist Party, he would have been viewed as a member of the village elite, or intelligentsia, at that time. When we interviewed him, Asan recalled...


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pp. 311-314


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pp. 315-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780253011473
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253011404

Page Count: 332
Illustrations: 16 b&w illus., 1 map
Publication Year: 2013