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Regular version of the site

Politics and Society in Central Asia

Academic Year
Instruction in English
ECTS credits
Course type:
Elective course
1 year, 3, 4 module

Course Syllabus


This course explores politics and society in contemporary post-Soviet Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). It will briefly cover Central Asian history in the Russian Empire and the USSR before proceeding with an analysis of its post-Soviet transformation(s). The course aims to provide students with understanding of key issues in political and societal developments in these countries. It covers a number of issues such as Russian/Soviet legacies; post-colonial/post-Soviet identities; state building and state fragility; ethnicity, language, nationhood, nation building and nationalism; (ethnic) conflict and violence; role of gender, family, religion, formal and informal networks and institutions in state-society relations; multiple forms of civil society and ambiguous impact of (external) development/democracy promotion efforts. The course will help students to acquire knowledge on the nature of state, politics and society in Central Asia, and develop critical thinking on variations in and drivers of political, economic, social and cultural transformations in this part of the world.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • To provide students with understanding of key issues in political and societal developments in Central Asian countries.
  • To help students acquire knowledge on the nature of state, politics and society in Central Asia, and develop critical thinking on variations in and drivers of political, economic, social and cultural transformations in this part of the world.
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • analyses post-Soviet transformation(s) in Central Asian countries
  • applies the concepts of state building and state fragility; ethnicity, language, nationhood, nation building and nationalism; (ethnic) conflict and violence to analysis of Central Asian politics and societies
  • compares multiple forms of civil society in Central Asia
  • demonstrates critical thinking on variations in and drivers of political, economic, social and cultural transformations in Central Asia
  • knows key issues in political and societal developments in Central Asian countries
  • knows the concepts of post-colonial/post-Soviet legacies and identities
  • understands the role of gender, family, religion, formal and informal networks and institutions in state-society relations in Central Asia
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Central Asia in the Russian Empire. Political transformations and nation-building in the Soviet period
  • Independence: experiencing post-colonial and post-Soviet
  • Peace-building, nation-building and state-building (I)
  • Peace-building, nation-building and state-building (II)
  • Multiple facets of the state
  • Tradition and informality
  • Gender and family
  • Religion
  • Migration
  • Multiple forms of civil society: “local” ways and “universal” templates
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking In-class participation 1
  • non-blocking Presentation 1
  • non-blocking Book review
  • non-blocking In-class participation 2
  • non-blocking Presentation 2
  • non-blocking Essay
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • 2022/2023 4th module
    0.2 * Book review + 0.2 * In-class participation 2 + 0.2 * In-class participation 1 + 0.2 * Essay + 0.1 * Presentation 2 + 0.1 * Presentation 1


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Adams, L., & Rustemova, A. (2009). Mass Spectacle and Styles of Governmentality in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Europe-Asia Studies, 61(7), 1249–1276. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130903068798
  • Akiner, S. (1997). Melting pot, salad bowl——cauldron? Manipulation and mobilization of ethnic and religious identities in Central Asia. Ethnic & Racial Studies, 20(2), 362–398. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.1997.9993966
  • Asel Murzakulova, & John Schoeberlein. (2009). The Invention of Legitimacy: Struggles in Kyrgyzstan to Craft an Effective Nation-State Ideology. Europe-Asia Studies, (7), 1229. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130903068756
  • Babajanian, B., Freizer, S., & Stevens, D. (2005). Introduction: Civil society in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Central Asian Survey, 24(3), 209–224. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634930500310287
  • Beyer, J., Rasanayagam, J., & Reeves, M. (2013). Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia : Performing Politics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=677473
  • Buxton, C. (2009). NGO networks in Central Asia and global civil society: potentials and limitations. Central Asian Survey, 28(1), 43–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634930902775129
  • Cummings, S. N., & Hinnebusch, R. A. (2011). Sovereignty After Empire : Comparing the Middle East and Central Asia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=386927
  • Denison, M. (2009). The Art of the Impossible: Political Symbolism, and the Creation of National Identity and Collective Memory in Post-Soviet Turkmenistan. Europe-Asia Studies, 61(7), 1167–1187. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130903068715
  • Hann, C., & Pelkmans, M. (2009). Realigning Religion and Power in Central Asia: Islam, Nation-State and (Post)Socialism. Europe-Asia Studies, 61(9), 1517–1541. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130903209111
  • Heathershaw, J. (2011). Tajikistan amidst globalization: state failure or state transformation? Central Asian Survey, 30(1), 147–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2011.554070
  • Isaacs, R. (2015). Nomads, warriors and bureaucrats: nation-building and film in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Nationalities Papers, 43(3), 399–416. https://doi.org/10.1080/00905992.2013.870986
  • John Heathershaw. (2009). Tajikistan’s Virtual Politics of Peace. Europe-Asia Studies, (7), 1315. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130903068822
  • Jones Luong, P. (DE-588)124303307, (DE-576)18499859X. (2002). Institutional change and political continuity in Post-Soviet Central Asia : power, perceptions, and pacts / Pauline Jones Luong. Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edswao&AN=edswao.098176676
  • Juraev, S. (2008). Kyrgyz democracy? The Tulip Revolution and beyond. Central Asian Survey, 27(3/4), 253–264. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634930802536464
  • Khalid, A. (2014). Islam After Communism : Religion and Politics in Central Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=691726
  • Kudaibergenova, D. T. (2017). The Archaeology of Nationalizing Regimes in the Post-Soviet Space: Narratives, Elites, and Minorities. Problems of Post-Communism, 64(6), 342–355. https://doi.org/10.1080/10758216.2016.1184983
  • Laruelle, M. (2013). Migration and Social Upheaval in the Face of Globalization in Central Asia. Leiden: Brill. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=569840
  • Lynch, D. (2001). The Tajik Civil War and Peace Process. Civil Wars, 4(4), 49. https://doi.org/10.1080/13698240108402487
  • Matteo Fumagalli. (2007). Framing ethnic minority mobilisation in Central Asia: The cases of Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Europe-Asia Studies, (4), 567. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130701289869
  • Neopatrimonialism and beyond: reassessing the formal and informal in the study of Central Asian politics. (2014). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.AAF37417
  • Pianciola, N., & Sartori, P. (2007). Waqf in Turkestan: the colonial legacy and the fate of an Islamic institution in early Soviet Central Asia, 1917-1924. Central Asian Survey, 26(4), 475–498. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634930802017929
  • Sahadeo, J., & Zanca, R. (2007). Everyday Life in Central Asia : Past and Present. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=642391
  • Scarborough, I. (2016). (Over)determining social disorder: Tajikistan and the economic collapse of perestroika. Central Asian Survey, 35(3), 439–463. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2016.1189679
  • SLEZKINE, Y. (1994). The USSR as a communal apartment, or how a socialist state promoted ethnic particularism. Slavic Review, (2), 414. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsfra&AN=edsfra.3717682

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Dave, B. (2004). Entitlement through numbers: nationality and language categories in the first post-Soviet census of Kazakhstan. Nations & Nationalism, 10(4), 439–459. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1354-5078.2004.00176.x
  • Doolot, A., & Heathershaw, J. (2015). State as resource, mediator and performer: understanding the local and global politics of gold mining in Kyrgyzstan. Central Asian Survey, 34(1), 93–109. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2015.1010853
  • Erica Marat. (2009). Nation Branding in Central Asia: A New Campaign to Present Ideas about the State and the Nation. Europe-Asia Studies, (7), 1123. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130903068657
  • Fauve, A. (2015). Global Astana: nation branding as a legitimization tool for authoritarian regimes. Central Asian Survey, 34(1), 110–124. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2015.1016799
  • Ferrando, O. (2008). Manipulating the Census: Ethnic Minorities in the Nationalizing States of Central Asia. Nationalities Papers, 36(3), 489–520. https://doi.org/10.1080/00905990802080737
  • Ferrando, O. (2011). Soviet population transfers and interethnic relations in Tajikistan: assessing the concept of ethnicity. Central Asian Survey, 30(1), 39–52. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2011.554054
  • Ibañez-Tirado, D. (2015). ‘How can I be post-Soviet if I was never Soviet?’ Rethinking categories of time and social change – a perspective from Kulob, southern Tajikistan. Central Asian Survey, 34(2), 190–203. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2014.983705
  • Kassymbekova, B. (2011). Helpless imperialists: European state workers in Soviet Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. Central Asian Survey, 30(1), 21–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2011.554052
  • Lemon, E. (2018). Critical approaches to security in Central Asia: an introduction. Central Asian Survey, 37(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2018.1435760
  • Liu, M. Y. (2012). Under Solomon’s Throne : Uzbek Visions of Renewal in Osh. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=829412
  • Marat, E. (2016). Post-violence regime survival and expansion in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Central Asian Survey, 35(4), 531–548. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2016.1246415
  • Menga, F. (2015). Building a nation through a dam: the case of Rogun in Tajikistan. Nationalities Papers, 43(3), 479–494. https://doi.org/10.1080/00905992.2014.924489
  • Nasritdinov, E. (2016). ‘Only by learning how to live together differently can we live together at all’: readability and legibility of Central Asian migrants’ presence in urban Russia. Central Asian Survey, 35(2), 257–275. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2016.1153837
  • Ó Beacháin, D., & Kevlihan, R. (2015). Imagined democracy? Nation-building and elections in Central Asia. Nationalities Papers, 43(3), 495–513. https://doi.org/10.1080/00905992.2014.916662
  • Paasiaro, M. (2009). Home-grown strategies for greater agency: reassessing the outcome of civil society strengthening in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. Central Asian Survey, 28(1), 59–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634930902796422
  • Radford, D. (2014). Contesting and negotiating religion and ethnic identity in Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. Central Asian Survey, 33(1), 15–28. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2013.871831
  • Radnitz, S. (DE-576)256402698. (2010). Weapons of the wealthy : predatory regimes and elite-led protests in Central Asia / Scott Radnitz. Ithaca, N.Y. [u.a.]: Cornell University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edswao&AN=edswao.338359478
  • Rasanayagam, J. (2002). Spheres of communal participation: placing the state within local modes of interaction in rural Uzbekistan. Central Asian Survey, 21(1), 55. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634930220127946
  • Reeves, M. (DE-588)1016266871, (DE-576)267905742. (2014). Border work : spatial lives of the state in rural Central Asia / Madeleine Reeves. Ithaca, N.Y. [u.a.]: Cornell Univ. Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edswao&AN=edswao.407688234
  • Roche, S. (2014). Domesticating Youth : Youth Bulges and Their Socio-political Implications in Tajikistan. New York: Berghahn Books. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=638350
  • Satybaldieva, E. (2015). Political Capital, Everyday Politics and Moral Obligations: Understanding the Political Strategies of Various Elites and the Poor in Kyrgyzstan. Europe-Asia Studies, 67(3), 370–387. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2015.1020003
  • Schatz, E. (2004). Modern Clan Politics : The Power of “Blood” in Kazakhstan and Beyond. Seattle, Wash: University of Washington Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=598289
  • Schröder, P. (2010). “Urbanizing” Bishkek: interrelations of boundaries, migration, group size and opportunity structure. Central Asian Survey, 29(4), 453–467. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2010.537143
  • Sébastien Peyrouse. (2007). Nationhood and the minority question in Central Asia. The Russians in Kazakhstan. Europe-Asia Studies, (3), 481. https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130701239930
  • Sharipova, D. (2015). State retrenchment and informal institutions in Kazakhstan: people’s perceptions of informal reciprocity in the healthcare sector. Central Asian Survey, 34(3), 310–329. https://doi.org/10.1080/02634937.2015.1044199
  • THOMAS, A. (2017). The Caspian Disputes: Nationalism and Nomadism in Early Soviet Central Asia. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.FE63309F