Patron-Client Relations within the context of a Kyrgyz community, Kyrgyzstan


My specific focus is to understand the central characteristics of patron-client relations within the Kyrgyz context, especially the varieties of patron-client relations, their degree, boundaries, the circumstances under which they emerge, their consequences and their significance.
Patron-client relations prevail on almost all levels of Kyrgyz society and they develop in many concrete forms and play different roles within different institutional contexts (Eisenstadt and Roniger, 1984:162). As a result, social interaction should be considered from various perspectives. In this research I intend to examine the functions of patron-client relations in the community’s economic, social and political spheres because each of these spheres put different demands on survival strategies.
In the economic sphere I will concentrate on the interaction of patrons and clients within the framework of trade, business and the market in the village as well as between population centres in order to understand the local meaning of contract transactions and examine the process of these negotiations. This relationship is based purely on cost-benefit calculations. However, culturally bound relationships such as the respect with which wealthy patrons are treated still prevail as traditionally rooted patterns of Kyrgyz behaviour.

In the social sphere, rural social life will be linked to wider institutional frameworks, such as state agencies, social institutions (hospital, universities, banks and police). Due to extensive bureaucracy, the networks of patron-client relationships intertwine with the whole of these social institutions. In other words, it has reached the point where ‘it created a complicated system of direct and indirect mutual exchanges and obligations’ (Tartowski, 1983:506).
In the political sphere, I will look at the relationships between the local people and the head of the village - its central political representative - and other political elites. The head of the village is a mediator between the local people and the elites from outside the village, an organiser of meetings and social gatherings. He is the one who can mitigate interpersonal conflicts by equally distributing land, appropriately regulating water and arranging meetings with important elites. He thereby increases his own political influence among the villagers. Nevertheless, the head of the village is a client himself to higher-level patrons in the rayon and oblast administration.
At this stage, in drawing a preliminary framework of ‘patron-clients relations’ in three spheres, the research project is still very broad. However, depending on the findings, I will narrow down it. In addition to the study of patron-client relations, ‘network’ and ‘reciprocity’ between ‘patron’ and ‘client’ will be taken into consideration. I will also try to link concepts such as corruption, morality and contract to patron-client relations.
Support institutions in Kyrgyzstan include informal social networks such as patronage, connections, neighbourhood and workplace kinship and friendship relations. Informal social networks are bound together by interpersonal trust and play a most profound role in the exchange of goods and services. By identifying the various forms of interpersonal relations, it will be possible to examine the various coping strategies. Therefore, for this project it is crucial to describe and analyse exchange and reciprocity (Sahlin 1972; Polanyi 1944; Blau, 1964; Homans, 1961) and various forms of social networking (Boissevain, 1974; Schweizter and White, 1998; Mitchell, 1974) as survival strategies in response to the ‘market economy’.
For this project, I will try to take into consideration all the various types of networks and all forms of ‘help’ within these networks. By comparing several networks, I will be able to understand the distinctiveness of patron-client relationships. My task is to take into consideration symmetrical and asymmetrical relations; sameness and difference; degrees of overlap and complementary relationships between the activities of the partners.

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