CASCA and Research Area Central Asia
The Department ‘Integration and Conflict’ at the MPI for Social Anthropology (Prof. Günther Schlee) and the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Zurich (Prof. Peter Finke) launch a new “Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia”
The Department ‘Integration and Conflict’ at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Prof. Günther Schlee) and the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Zurich (Prof. Peter Finke) start a new cooperation with the launch of the “Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia”. The new centre builds on a long-standing collaboration and pursues to strengthen joint research efforts with a regional focus. The first joint project on “Ethnic Differentiation, Interethnic Relations and Conflict in Central Asia: The Case of the Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kazakstan” has been awarded funding by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the German Science Foundation (DFG). The project will be conducted in further cooperation with Prof. Alessandro Monsutti (Geneva) and Prof. Jürgen Paul (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg).
(News Published on 12.11.12)
Researchers in the area Central Asia
Indira Alibayeva Ph.D Candidate
Aida Alymbaeva Ph.D Candidate
Małgorzata Biczyk Ph.D Candidate
Peter Finke Co-operation Partner
Wolfgang Holzwarth Associate
Eliza Isabaeva Ph.D Candidate
Aksana Ismailbekova Associate
Soledad Jiménez Tovar Associate
Verena laMela Ph.D Candidate
Mateusz Laszczkowski Associate
Bakyt Muratbaeva Ph.D Candidate
Zarina Mukanova Ph.D Candidate
Meltem Sancak Senior Research Fellow
Merle Schatz Associate
Rano Turaeva Associate
Margarethe Waldt Ph.D Candidate
Former Researchers (1999-2012)
Central Asia is a vast, landlocked area in the centre of the Eurasian landmass. It has in the past been the cradle of large nomadic empires like those of the Mongols or various Turkic dynasties. Later its fate became increasingly determined by two powerful neighbours, China and Russia. During the 20th century the region participated in one of the greatest experiments of human history, the creation of a socialist economy and society. This would change the livelihoods and the cultural perceptions of people in the region fundamentally. With the gradual demise of socialism in the 1980s and 1990s, Central Asians again see themselves confronted with a tremendous task: the transition to a western-style market economy.
With the possible exception of those parts of Central Asia that belong to China, this proved to be an extremely difficult task. The economic downturn in most of the countries is traumatic. Households cope with the decline of state support and unemployment by relying increasingly on their private plots and livestock. Some states like Kyrgyzstan or Mongolia have tried to adapt by a rapid redistribution of property into private hands. The outcomes results were often devastating. Other regimes, like Uzbekistan, are still characterised by firm state control and cultivation plans but the results were hardly any better. The old socialist enterprises have been renamed but retained their previous character and provide people with at least some security and access to land even if they do not pay regular salaries anymore.
Many western observers presumed that increasing poverty and social deprivation would end in widespread unrest, inter-ethnic conflicts and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. All of a sudden Central Asia became a centre of academic and public attention. This was even further fuelled by the recent events in the Middle East, with which the western parts of the region are believed to share many commonalities. These scenarios do not provide an accurate picture of the actual situation. In fact, most parts of Central Asia remain remarkably calm and peaceful in terms of social and inter-ethnic relations.
At the same time, the five new independent states in western Central Asia that owe their existence to the sudden break-up of the Soviet Union pursue agendas to promote national ideologies and a common identity for all citizens. In view of the ethnic heterogeneity and the artificiality of territorial boundaries this may prove a risky undertaking. Old and new minorities, like the formerly privileged Russian population, perceive themselves increasingly as second-class citizens in many states. On the other hand, an ideal of inter-ethnic harmony and multi-cultural society is still very strong in the region. The same is true for religious affiliation. Although Islam as well as Christianity have experienced a revival after decades of state suppression, the coexistence of different religions is viewed by most people as positive.
Another common prediction was the revitalisation of local communities and informal institutions. While this is true to some degree, these often suffered from the dominance of state institutions in the socialist period that made local arrangements dispensable. They thus lack the time depth necessary for the development of mutual trust. In the eyes of the majority of the population it is primarily the state that is responsible for providing infrastructural services and help for the needy. Grass roots organisations develop only very slowly for that matter. At the same time, social stratification is on the rise. New elites emerge (partly out of the previous one) and try to monopolise the already scarce resources. This may further weaken local institutions as social cohesion is decreasing and interest differences become more permanent.
Members of Department I "Integration and Conflict" have been working in various parts of Central Asia for several years. Since the early 1990s Peter Finke has conducted long-term field research among
Kazak pastoralists in Western Mongolia.
Together with Meltem Sancak he has also worked on inter- and intra-ethnic differentiation in southeastern Kazakstan within the framework of the new nation-states and the immigration of Kazak "diasporas" from outside the former Soviet Union. The current focus of the projects on Central Asia within Department I are on Uzbeks in different parts of the former Soviet Union. Beginning in 2000, Meltem Sancak and Peter Finke did field research in four different oases in Uzbekistan. Meltem Sancak is looking at the interrelatedness of
economic transformation, social change and inter-ethnic relations in Uzbekistan.
In Peter Finke's project, the focus is on the interplay between
interest, identity and ideology
and the conditions that provoke people to change their identity and group affiliation in connection with the cognitive processes involved in this process. Recently they were joined by Tsypylma Darieva, who is doing research among the
Uzbeks in southern Kazakstan
and how they adjust within the new nation-state. The Uzbeks are the most populous group in Central Asia and for geographical and historical reasons occupy a central position in the ethnic configuration of the region. The overall question of these projects is to look at the ways how Uzbek identity is conceptualised in different regions (inside and outside the nation-state) depending on local ethnic constellations and socio-economic conditions. In each setting different variables should lead to a unique formulation of collective identities and the composition of social networks. The sites for this project will include:
a) several regions within Uzbekistan
b) locations in neighbouring countries where Uzbeks are part of the indigenous population, as in southern Kyrgyzstan, northern and western Tajikistan, southern Kazakstan, northern Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan
c) Uzbek "diasporas" who migrated out of Central Asia at some point during the 19th and 20th centuries
The project will analyse the different variables that account for the respective manifestation of ethnic identities and its variations. Political, economic and demographic factors clearly play an important role in this, but so do cognitive, ideological and emotional ones. The concept of being Uzbek, broadly defined, provides an excellent case for this because of the heterogeneity both of the group internally as well as of the locations they inhabit. This enables a systematic comparison of the factors and variables that influence how group identities and social networks are formed and demarcated. Besides increasing the still limited knowledge about the region, this will also enhance existing theoretical models on social groups and their meaning in human life.
Text: Peter Finke