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Reconceptualizing Clans: Kinship Networks and Statehood in Kazakhstan

  • Edward Schatz (a1)


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.



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1. Partial exceptions include Laitin, David D., Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Religious Change Among the Yoruba (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1986) and I. Schapera, Government and Politics in Tribal Societies (New York: Schocken Books, 1967). On loosely defined “informal politics” across Africa, see Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, Africa Works, Disorder as Political Instrument (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). On rent-seeking networks and other opaque politics in East Europe, see Anna Gryzmala-Busse, “Political Competition and the Politicization of the State in East Central Europe,” Comparative Political Studies, December 2003; and David Stark and Laszlo Bruszt, Postsocialist Pathways: Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

2. Schatz, Edward, Modern Clan Politics: The Power of “Blood” in Kazakhstan and Beyond (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2004).

3. The synthetic study that marks a change on thinking on ethnicity is Young, Crawford, The Politics of Cultural Pluralism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976).

4. On the role of social communication, see Deutsch, Karl. Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality (New York: Wiley, 1953), and “Social Mobilization and Political Development,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 55, 1961, pp. 493514. On print-capitalism, see Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

5. Olcott, Martha Brill, “The Fabrication of a Social Past,” in Aronoff, Myron, ed., Political Anthropology Handbook (Rutgers, Transaction Press, 1980), pp. 193212.

6. James C. Scott's contributions are exceptional. See his Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

7. Akbarzadeh, Shahram, “Why did Nationalism Fail in Tajikistan?Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 48, No. 7, pp. 11051129; Barnett Rubin, “Russian Hegemony and State Breakdown in the Periphery: Causes and Consequences of the Civil War in Tajikistan,” in Rubin, Barnett R. and Snyder, Jack, eds, Post-Soviet Political Order: Conflict and State Building (London: Routledge, 1997).

8. Poliakov, Sergei, Everyday Islam: Religion and Tradition in Rural Central Asia (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1992); Vaisman, Demian, “Regionalism and Clan Loyalty in the Political Life of Uzbekistan,” in Yaacov Ro'i, ed., Muslim Eurasia: Conflicting Legacies (London: Frank Cass, 1995), pp. 105121.

9. Kushlubayev, Vladimir, “Tribalism and the State Formation in Kyrgyzstan” (thesis, Central European University, 1995); Collins, Kathleen, Clans, Pacts, and Politics: Understanding Regime Transition in Central Asia (Ph.D. dissertation 1999, Stanford University, and book ms., 2002).

10. Lieven, Anatol, Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 335345. See also Fedorovich, Alexander, “Clans and Religion in Chechnya,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2001, pp. 108113.

11. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, trans. and ed., From Max Weber (New York, 1946), pp. 8182.

12. Weber, Max, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York, 1947), p. 332.

13. On how bureaucratic efficiency is implicated in modern atrocities, see Bauman, Zygmunt, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989).

14. To be fair, Weber painted these as ideal–types, but as with most ideal–types, once created, they assumed a categorical character that proved less flexible than Weber perhaps would have preferred.

15. Landa, Janet Tai, Trust, Ethnicity, and Identity: Beyond the New Institutional Economics of Ethnic Trading Networks, Contract Law, and Gift Exchange (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994).

16. Collins, Kathleen, “The Political Role of Clans in Central Asia,” Comparative Politics , No. 35, 2003, pp. 171190.

17. Clan behaviors were not the cause of state breakdown in Somalia, but once the disintegration of the state began, clan-based insecurity sped up its total collapse.

18. Evans-Pritchard, E. E., The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Niolitic People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940).

19. Evans-Pritchard, ; and Gellner, Ernest, Muslim Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

20. Geertz, Clifford, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), pp. 331.

21. Blood ties are often Active, but they are assumed to be real.

22. This article does not theorize the conditions under which this discursive exchange occurs or does not occur. Much depends on whether states provide space for free expression or, alternatively, criminalizes the exchange of genealogical information.

23. Horowitz, Donald L., A Democratic South Africa? (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991); René Lemarchand, Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice (Cambridge and New York: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Cambridge University Press, 1994).

24. Liberals advocate civic polities as ways to preclude the need for ethnic belonging. Even as they do so, they implicitly recognize the legitimacy of ethnic categories by suggesting ways to move beyond ethnicity. Clans usually remain unrecognized categories by the state and the international system.

25. Stevens, Jacqueline, Reproducing the State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 24.

26. I elaborate on these issues in Schatz, Modern Clan Politics .

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.

28. Evans-Pritchard.

29. Vostrov, V. V. and Mukanov, M. S., Rodoplemennoi sostav i rasselenie Kazakhov: konets XIX–nachalo XX v . Alma-Ata: Nauka, 1968).

30. Olcott, , The Kazakhs , p. 13.

31. Varieties of primordialist thinking include Isaacs, Harold, Idols of the Tribe: Group Identity and Political Change (New York: Harper & Row, 1977); Walker Connor, Ethnonationalism: The Quest for Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Alexander J. Motyl, Revolutions, Nations, and Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).

32. Steffen W. Schmidt, Laura Guasti, Carl H. Lande and James C. Scott, eds, Friends, Followers, and Factions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977).

33. On the key difference between individuals behaving as rational, utility-maximizers and playing social roles, compare North, Douglass C., Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) with Merton, Robert K., Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957).

34. Holos Ukrayiny , 13 October 1993, as reported by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS-SOV-93-198).

35. Ashimbaev, D. R., Kto est' kto v Kazakhstane (Almaty: Credo, 2001).

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.

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.

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.

39. On the possibility of ethnic Russian separatism, see Bremmer, Ian, “Nazarbaev and the North: State-Building and Ethnic Relations in Kazakhstan,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1994, pp. 619635.; and Bhavna Davé, “The Politics of Language Revival: National Identity and State Building in Kazakhstan” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Syracuse University, 1996).

40. I estimated Nazarbaev's influence in the following way. For 1997, I considered that Nazarbaev had greatest influence over those government agencies involved in economic development and economic reform. At the time, this was the single most important imperative for the regime. I estimated the degree to which an agency was involved in economic issues. For 2001, Nazarbaev's focus shifted largely to domestic and international security. Accordingly, for that year I considered the degree to which each agency was involved in security issues.

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.

42. Based on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty electronic daily reports, I reconstructed the duration in office for each regional governor in the 1990s. In 1997 four regions were absorbed into others, losing their separate administrative status. The average tenure in office in these four regions was 29.7 months.

43. On fiscal decentralization, see Luong, Pauline Jones, “Economic Decentralization in Kazakhstan: Causes and Consequences” (working paper, Yale University).

44. Interview, Sabyr Kairkhanov, Atyrau, 12 October 1998.

45. Zhanuzakova, L. T., “Problemy vzaimootnoshenii akima oblasti s vyshestoiashchimi i nizhestoiashchimi organami ispolnitel'noi vlasti v usloviiakh unitarnogo Kazakhstana,” Izvestiia Akademii Nauk RK, Vol. 4, 1997, pp. 1418.

46. Dozhivem do ponidel'nika , 29 March 1996, as reported in V. N. Khliupin, “Bol'shaia sem'ia' Nursultana Nazarbaeva: politicheskaia elita sovremennogo Kazakhstana (Moscow: Institut aktual'nykh politicheskikh issledovanii, 1998), p. 12.

47. Khliupin, , ‘Bol'shaia sem'ia’, p . 12.

48. Tileulesov, Temirtas, Ordaly zhylan: korruptsiia turaly (Shymkent, 1998). The author of this book on the region's corruption found himself on “trial” for its publication. In 2000 he was severely beaten by unknown assailants.

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.

50. Levshin, A., Opisanie kirgiz-kazach ‘ikh, ili kirgiz-kaisatskikh, ord i stepei (Almaty: Sanat, 1832, 1996 reprint).

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

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

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).

54. Masanov, Nurbulat, “Kazakhskaia politicheskaia i intellektual'naia elita: klanovaia prinadlezhnost' i vnutrietnicheskoe sopernichestvo,” Vestnik Evrazii, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1996, pp. 4661.

55. Ibid, p. 59.

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.”

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

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.

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

60. Amrekulov, Nurlan, Puti k ustoichivomu razvitiiu: razmyshleniia o glavnom (Almaty), p. 128.

61. Interview, Akezhan Qozhaakhmet, 26 March 1998.

62. These conclusions corroborate the intensive ethnographic work in Werner.

63. Karavan, 20 March 1998, p. 37.

64. Konstitutsiia, article 20, line 3.

65. Kazhegeldin, Akezhan, Kazakhstan: pravo vybora (Almaty: Qarzhy-Qarazhat, 1998), p. 55.

66. See Khliupin, V. N., Imperskii sbornik No. 1: Respublika Kazakhstan—geopoliticheskie ocherki (Moscow: Russkii Komitet pri Predsedatele Liberal'no-Demokraticheskoi partii Rossii, 1997).

67. Khliupin, , Imperskii, p. 122.

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

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

70. Horowitz, Donald L., Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

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

72. Widner, Jennifer A., The Rise of a Party-State in Kenya: From “Harambee!” to “Nyayo!” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

73. Klopp, Jacqueline M., “Can Moral Ethnicity Trump Political Tribalism? The Struggle for Land and Nation in Kenya,” African Studies, Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 269294.


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