Dangerous Clan Conflict or Muslim Civil Society?: Towards an Alternative Understanding of Central Asia's Democratic Development
On November 30th, I gave the seventeenth annual Nav’ai Lecture in Central Asian Studies at Georgetown University. The title of my talk was the same as that which is featured above. I was inspired to speak on this topic by the recent glut of literature on “clan politics” in Central Asia. This recent literature includes Oliver Roy’s influential introduction to Central Asia, The New Central Asia, Kathleen Collins new book, Clan Politics and Regime Transition in Central Asia, Edward Schatz’s book Modern Clan Politics: The Power of “Blood” in Kazakhstan and Beyond, and Fredrick Starr’s policy paper Clans, Authoritarian Rulers, and Parliaments in Central Asia. While this literature is increasingly providing a new paradigm for analyzing political actions in Central Asia, it is also, with the exception of Schatz’s more grounded research, characterizing the Central Asian political context as somehow more tribal or clan-based than that of any other former Soviet regions. Such a characterization, I believe, is symptomatic of a certain “orientalism” in Central Asian studies that seeks to portray the region as still on the margins of modern civilization and plagued by Asian “primordial attachments.” In my talk, I challenged such perspectives noting that the patron-client relations at the higher levels of politics in Central Asia are more Soviet-based than they are grounded in Central Asian traditions. If anything, I argue that the “solidarity groups,” as Roy calls them, of local Central Asian communities may provide the basis for indigenous civil society in the region rather than reflect the roots of anti-democratic clans or tribes. Most of all, however, I intended the talk to make us all think more critically about the concept of clanism in Central Asia, which remains poorly understood. Thus, I wanted to post my talk HERE so that I might generate some discussion about the topic in the comment section. Your thoughts on the topic would be most welcome!