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Reconceptualizing Clans: Kinship Networks and Statehood in Kazakhstan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Edward Schatz*
Department of Political Science, Southern Illinois University,


What role, if any, does kinship play in modern political life? Recent work in comparative politics has focused on a variety of informal relationships. It is striking that kinship has not received similar, sustained attention. The broad assumption of most theoretically-driven work is that kinship is the domain of the anthropologist; to the extent that political scientists consider kinship, they do so as something for modern institutions to overcome, as something in fundamental opposition to the state apparatus.

Copyright © 2005 Association for the Study of Nationalities of Eastern Europe 

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27. This discussion of clan and umbrella clan does not exhaust the store of identity categories that were relevant in the pre-Soviet steppe, but ethnic and social class categories (for examples) were far less central to political and social life in the region than were kinship-based divisions. For a broader discussion of various identity categories, see Martha Brill Olcott, The Kazakhs: Second Edition (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1995); and, Schatz, , Modern Clan Politics, Chapter 2.Google Scholar

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36. Jones Luong argues that regional (oblast) identities and interests were promoted during the Soviet period. See her Institutional Change and Political Continuity in Post-Soviet Central Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). What I consider here is different. Each umbrella clan encompasses several regions, and many regions have several different umbrella clans.Google Scholar

37. Non-Kazakhs and urban-born Kazakhs were not coded, since the former do not have clan backgrounds and the latter's clan background cannot be discerned with accuracy. There is no reason to suspect that this creates a selection effect.Google Scholar

38. Estimates are from Tynyshpaev, “Genealogiia,” as reported in Werner, Cynthia, “The Significance of Tribal Identities in the Daily Life of Rural Kazaks in South Kazakhstan,” presented at Association for the Study of Nationalities convention, 24–26 April 1997, p. 13. Given the lack of census data on umbrella clan backgrounds, estimates are rough, a point to which I return below.Google Scholar

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41. By the late 1990s, the context for umbrella clan politics had changed, with the immediate threat of separatism diminished, and therefore the need for an Elder–Middle alliance no longer strong. In such a context, an Elder–Younger alliance began to emerge. It remains to be seen whether this too will trickle down into the broader elite. On the diminished threat of ethnic Russian separatism, see Commercio, Michele E., “The ‘Pugachev Rebellion’ in the Context of Post-Soviet Kazakh Nationalization,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2004, pp. 87113 and Schatz, Edward, “Framing Strategies and Non-Conflict in Multi-Ethnic Kazakhstan,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2000, pp. 7092.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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49. Author's field notes, South Kazakhstan region, June and July 1997, passim; interview, “Bakhyt,” Shymkent akimat, 28 May 1998. Many informants preferred to have their identity protected.Google Scholar

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51. I cover quasi-state actors in Schatz, Modern Clan Politics .Google Scholar

52. Professor Masanov was more than willing to have his story told as an illustration of the political threat posed by subethnicity-based analyses.Google Scholar

53. Masanov, Nurbulat, Kochevaia tsivilizatsiia Kazakhov (Almaty: Sotsinvest, 1995). Masanov has pointed out that critics of his work had accused him of “geographical determinism” (personal communication).Google Scholar

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55. Ibid, p. 59.Google Scholar

56. Kazakhstanskaia pravda , 18 March 1998, p. 1. The Russian term natsional'nyi (an adjective) is the equivalent of “ethnic,” although it might also be translated (more awkwardly) as “nationality-related.”Google Scholar

57. This direct quotation comes from the tape recording of the event that a journalist, who prefers to remain anonymous, provided.Google Scholar

58. See, for examples, Ana tili , 26 March 1998, p. 2; Egemen Qazaqstan, 22 July 1998, p. 4; and Qazaq eli, 28 March 1998, p. 3.Google Scholar

59. Karavan, 17 July 1998, p. 10.Google Scholar

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68. This metaphor comes from Gawande, Atul, “The Cancer-Cluster Myth,” The New Yorker , 8 February 1999, p. 37.Google Scholar

69. Anonymous local journalists in Shymkent provided these subethnic backgrounds.Google Scholar

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71. Thanks to Dennis Galvan (personal communication) for suggesting this line of questioning.Google Scholar

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