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Wither clans in Central Asia?

November 15, 2013

November 15, 2013

Svetlana Jacquesson, PhD

Director, Central Asian Studies Institute

Head of the MA program in Central Asian Studies

Part of the Working Paper Series, a seminar sponsored by CASI to assist faculty in preparing work for publication, this talk will showcase Svetlana Jacquesson’s research on clan politics in Central Asia and the academic debate that surrounds it. An abstract is included below. The seminar series is meant to provide faculty a forum to present their research and to receive comments and assistance on academic papers. We would ask that those wishing to attend Dr. Jacquesson’s presentation notify CASI at casiaucakg@gmail.com in order to receive a pdf copy of her essay. Those attending should come prepared to provide feedback in the form of comments, suggestions, criticisms, etc.

Abstract: One of the most striking features of Central Asian Studies, the way they have been practiced by Western scholars since the fall of the Soviet Union, is the absence of structured/meaningful debates. Publications on a given topic might proliferate, but they rarely engage in a dialogue. The debate on “clan politics” waged among political scientists, anthropologists and historians between 2005 and 2010, is “the” exception to the rule. Unfortunately - was it because it lacked audience and acknowledgement? – the “clan politics” debate is already a “has been”, even for the scholars who most fervently took part in it.

In this paper, I use the “clan politics” debate in order to show that Central Asia, as marginal as it might appear in mainstream social science debates is not that easy to crack and that, if we want to adorn mainstream social sciences debates with a Central Asian dimension, we have to be, at least from time to time, patient eavesdroppers instead of theory- or project- driven scholars. I will start by outlining the “clan debate” for those of you who have not followed it. More than simply outlining the debate, I will make you read with me some of its key definitions, hypothesis and arguments. It may sound a bit annoying as a start. But my feeling is that after some time we stop going back to the authors themselves; instead we keep operating with recapped and often simplified versions of their arguments. I would like to avoid this and I will beg you for some patience in the beginning of this paper.

In exchange, during the rest of it, I will entertain you with a more or less detailed ethnography of clan assemblies that went unnoticed by Western scholars, but that have been steadily institutionalized in Kyrgyzstan since 2009. I will start by presenting my methodology that I describe half-jokingly as “eavesdropping”. I will follow up with an overview of various media discourses on clans. In the descriptive part of my talk I will successively approach the rise of clan assemblies, their modus operandi and their goals. I will conclude by relating the recent developments of clans to the “clan politics” debate and in doing so I will attempt an answer the annoying question of “wither clans in Central Asia?” I will also try to suggest, as an anthropologist, how we can make clans again an exciting subject of study, of analysis and even of theorizing.

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