Volume XV Number 1 (October-November 2004)



By David Montgomery


Numerous journals contain book reviews and express keen interest in recent scholarship, but few, if any, review dissertations.  This column is a step towards acknowledging the accomplishments of young scholars and aims to consider, albeit briefly, the research contained in ten unpublished dissertations – submitted within the last five years – that have focused on Central Asia.  Some are in the process of being transformed into books and thus will become more widely available, but all have involved significant amounts of field research and archival research.  All dissertations reviewed are available either from UMI ProQuest or the library at the university from which the PhD was awarded.


While, inevitably, they are dominated by analysis of the transition to post-Soviet rule, some focus more on cultural, ethnic, and sub-ethnic aspects, others on social issues and problems of governance. All reflect awareness of the fact that the transition to self-governance is far from complete.


1)   Adams, Laura. 1999. Celebrating Independence: Arts, Institutions, and Identity in Uzbekistan. University of California, Berkeley.


Adams seeks to elucidate the question why the Tashkent cultural elites have maintained the Soviet understanding of culture rather than develop their own.  Uzbekistan¹s cultural elites have embraced the ³Soviet schema of culture² manifest in institutional structures such as the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, while at the same time rejecting Soviet power.  Thus, while the socialist content of Soviet ³cultural production² has disappeared, the structural means for conveying the concept of an Uzbek identity, both modern and traditional, has retained the cultural logic of Soviet institutions.


2)   Collins, Kathleen. 1999. Clans, Pacts, and Politics: Understanding Regime Transition in Central Asia. Stanford University.

(Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan)

Collins looks at the issue of political transition, questioning what factors account for the differences of post-Soviet regime change in Central Asia: of Kyrgyzstan turning toward democracy; of Uzbekistan shifting toward neo-authoritarianism; and of Tajikistan descending into civil war.  Offering an analysis of informal institutions, especially those of the clan networks, she argues that informal associations are more critical in the transition process than are the formal political institutions. The pervasiveness of informal associations and their influence on political choice make them crucial elements of any attempt to explain the transitional form of power regimes in Central Asia.


3)   Thurman, Jonathan. 1999. Modes of Organization in Central Asian Irrigation: The Ferghana Valley, 1876 to Present. Indiana University.


Recognizing that the irrigation system in Uzbekistan has been mismanaged, Thurman suggests that organizations introduced and dominated by the Soviet colonial state were less effective than indigenous organizational structures.  The colonial structure of water management was rife with greed and confusion, which undermined the ³customary² arrangements and thereby made the overall system of management less sustainable.  The decline in efficiency led to degradation of soil, thus burdening contemporary states with the need to reform their management of the irrigation system in order to move it toward responsible stewardship of their resources.


4)   Cooper, Alanna. 2000. Negotiating Identity in the Context of Diaspora, Dispersion and Reunion: The Bukharan Jews and Jews Peoplehood. Boston University.


Examining Bukharan Jews as a group both before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cooper looks at the changes the Bukharan Jews faced in the context of negotiating identity.  With mass immigrations to both Israel and the United States, Bukharan Jews were forced to encounter a Jewish culture different from their own.  Cooper offers two models to analyze this encounter: 1) ³edah² which celebrates cultural diversity; and 2) ³center/periphery² which examins orthodoxy as it pertains to customs accepted by dominant centers. Outlying beliefs, in this aspect are viewed with suspicion as deviations. Cooper¹s conclusions include the observation that Bukharan Jews tend to understand Judaism as centrally defined and in close (if at times contradictory) relations with a uniquely Bukharan cultural context.


5)   Schatz, Edward. 2000. ³Tribes² and ³Clans² in Modern Power: The State-led Production of Subethnic Politics in Kazakhstan. University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Attempting to explain why the sub-ethnicities of ³tribe² and ³clan² continue to persist and actively to shape modern political life, Schatz suggests that, in the case of Kazakhstan, modernization, and more specifically, Sovietization, has had a prominent role in solidifying the utility of these sub-ethnicities.  He argues that the economic shortages of Soviet modernization encouraged the proliferation of sub-ethnic networks and that the stigma attached to sub-ethnicities by Soviet nationalities policy pushed the affiliations underground.  In a sense, this attempt to marginalize these relationships actually increased their utility. The effectiveness of these networks as an expression of ethnic identities in modern political life is hampered, however, by the ³meta-conflicts² that span ethnicities.


6)   Carlisle, Kathleen. 2001. Clans and Politics in Uzbekistan. Boston College.


Carlisle argues that in Uzbekistan, clans are groups with weak solidarity because they are non-collaborative in nature and cleavages within them prevent unity in the political order.  Modernizing elites have attempted over time, to defuse the tensions of clan-based solidarity by promoting an Uzbek national identity.  She reviews the policies of Soviet leaders towards clan and sub-ethnic divisions and concludes that President Islam Karimov, despite the relative frailty of Uzbek clan unity, has appointed key government personnel inequitably, based on clan affiliation.  Karimov¹s choices furthermore, clearly have been incompatible with democracy.


7)   Sievers, Eric. 2001. Sustainable Development and Comprehensive Capital: The Post-Soviet Decline of Central Asia. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

(Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan)

Looking at various social indicators in post-Soviet Central Asia, Sievers argues that there has been a decline of comprehensive capital -- social, human and physical ­-- that accounts for economic decline in the region and a general shift toward despotism.  Recent development and reform projects have been largely unsuccessful, with little noticeable improvement in the environment, the rooting of democracy, or scientific and intellectual development.  While the decline was exacerbated by the imbalance of resources created under the Soviet system, the extent of this decline could have been mitigated if development and reform projects would have considered more seriously the impact of the intricate organizational structures of the Soviet Union.


8)   Liu, Morgan. 2002. Recognizing the Khan: Authority, Space, and Political Imagination among Uzbek Men in Post-Soviet Osh, Kyrgyzstan. University of Michigan.

(Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan)

Lui looks at the role space and authority plays in the understanding of power among a population of Uzbek men in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.  The subjects of his field work view Uzbek President Islam Karimov as a benevolent despot with the virtues of a Khan ruler.  The argument follows that their concept of Khan authority derives its character from the Uzbek neighborhoods¹ (mahallas) expectations of authority as being spatially dispersed.  Thus, in examining the case of Karimov¹s closing of the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Liu shows how Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan accept Khan authority, even in instances where that authority is not in their best interests.  Liu presents this acceptance of Khan authority as a somewhat idiomatic conception of community that serves as an alternative to Western models of civil society and the state.


9)   Rowe, William. 2002. On the Edge of Empires: The Hisor Valley of Tajikistan. University of Texan, Austin.


Historically, the borders of Central Asia have been difficult to classify.   Tajikistan is unique as an artificially-created state, which does not encompass any of the major cities to which Tajiks make claim and, having suffered a civil war and Soviet dependence, Tajiks have had to make a number of economic, social, and cultural adaptations.  Focusing on the Hisor Valley of southern Tajikistan, Rowe moves within the historical context and further examines the impact changes in land tenure and agriculture-related activities have had on Tajik society.  The argument continues that it is through an understanding of Tajik social reality that the world can assist more effectively the development of Tajikistan and keep it from falling into a chaos similar to that seen in Afghanistan.


10) McGlinchey, Eric. 2003. Paying for Patronage: Regime Change in Post-Soviet Central Asia. Princeton University.

(Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan)

McGlinchey focuses on the factors which influence regime change and tries to explain why, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan remained authoritarian while Kyrgyzstan moved between democracy and autocracy.  This difference in political outcome, despite shared legacies, can be explained in part, by arguing that practices of illiberal rule persist only if the resources remain to allow those practices to continue.  In Kazakhstan, the patronage network, which allows the maintenance of authoritarian rule has sprung from natural resources and the oil companies, whereas in Kyrgyzstan it has developed through foreign aid donations.  Thus, both the exploitation of natural resources and the generosity of well-intentioned foreign donors can similarly lead to illiberal political outcomes



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