The Development of Central Asia after the Fall of the Soviet Union
On 11–13 October a workshop entitled “Ideas and Practices: exploring economic and social transformation in Central Asia” will take place at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. Participants will present the results of their research on the far-reaching processes of transformation that have taken place in the Central Asian states since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The workshop was organized by the Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia (CASCA), a cooperation between the Department ‘Integration and Conflict’ at the MPI and the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK) at the University of Zurich. The workshop will be held in English.
Studying life in Central Asia today
Central Asia experienced two tremendous social transformations in the twentieth century: first the implementation of a socialist system and subsequently – after 1991 – the restructuring of this system into a market economy. The researchers of the Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia (CASCA) are particularly interested in the processes of change that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, their research encompasses not only the former Soviet Republics Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, but also the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and neighbouring Mongolian and Tibetan language areas. “What were the effects of the end of the planned economy and its economic, social, and cultural repercussions on a local level for the people in these countries? This has not yet been examined in any detail,” says Indira Alibayeva, a doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and one of the organizers of the workshop. “This event brings together some 30 researchers who have conducted extensive field studies on the everyday life of people in Central Asia today.”
New forms of migration and its effects
One of the consequences of the new political independence of the former Soviet republics that the CASCA researchers and their colleagues study is the extensive migration taking place across Asia. Some of this movement is labour migration from rural areas to industrial centres or migration from Central Asia to other countries such as Russia and Turkey. “Another major migration wave was triggered by a resettlement programme of the Kazakh government,” explains Indira Alibayeva. “Ethnic Kazakhs who had been living in other countries for generations were offered economic incentives to encourage them to relocate to the homeland of their ancestors.” This immigration from countries such as China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey has led to significant shifts in the economic and social structure of Kazakhstan. Alibayeva: “The integration process connected with this repatriation programme is very complex. For example, many Kazakhs from China don’t speak Russian, the most important language of communication in Kazakhstan. And migrants from Uzbekistan become powerful players in agriculture and trade and thus compete with the local Uzbek population.” In order to study the multi-faceted social transformation processes in Central Asia, anthropologists focus particularly on local ways of life and processes of change. The ideological systems and worldviews of the people and the cultural patterns that are in flux play a major role. “Anthropologists participate directly in the lives of people. This enables them to develop a keen sensitivity for growing inequality, new forms of social cooperation, ethnic identification and alliances, and the revival and reshaping of religious concepts,” explains Alibayeva.
Studying global social change
The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the world’s leading centres for research in socio-cultural anthropology. It was established in 1999 by Chris Hann and Günther Schlee, and moved to its permanent buildings at Advokatenweg 36 in Halle/Saale in 2001. Marie-Claire Foblets joined the Institute as Director of the Department ‘Law & Anthropology’ in 2012.
Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality. Fieldwork is an essential part of almost all projects. Some 175 researchers from over 30 countries currently work at the Institute. In addition, the Institute also hosts countless guest researchers who join in the scholarly discussions.
More information on the Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia (CASCA):
Contact for this press release
Prof. Dr. Günther Schlee