CASNiG at CESS Summer conference Tashkent 2022

Double Panel on “The ideological legacies through which we think Central Asia” hosted by CASNiG

At the long-awaited summer conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society in Tashkent, June 23-26, 2022, we organised a double panel, based on an idea born at the first CASNiG meeting in Augsburg. Six papers contributed to deconstruct the academic concepts that we use when studying Central Asia (see abstract and presentations below). In both well-attended sessions, concepts such as postsocialism, path dependency, and informality were scrutinized during a very lively discussion, and we felt the need for a deeper and more critical reflection of our analytical approaches and the consequences of using them in academia and beyond.

Reach out to the panel convenors Rune Steenberg and Ottavia Cima ( if you are interested in contributing to a Special Issue on this topic!


Western social sciences re-entered Central Asia along with the World Bank and IMF in the 1990s. It did so in a gush of triumphant end-of-historicism and ideological zeal. Terms that came to dominate the next decades of research like “transformation”, “transition”, “postsocialism”, “structural legacies”, “clan politics” and “informality” carried within them the unquestionable premises of the zeitgeist: of neo-liberal economism, state-centrism, neo-colonialism and evolutionism with capitalist characteristics. They are still being used in today’s much changed Central Asian reality, but are they being sufficiently examined, adapted or challenged? While unearthing and analysing Soviet legacies, how critically has the Central Asian studies community reflected or processed its own historical baggage? What are the ideological connotations of our current analytical approaches and terminology? According to Phillip Lottholz, much analysis of Central Asian politics and society are informed by normative notions of “an ideal type liberalism and democracy” that actually never existed anywhere in world history.

This panel seeks to critically examine popular analytical concepts in Central Asian studies and place them within a wider historical, political and economic context. Based on empirical data and/or literature reviews, each presenter will focus on one (or multiple) concept(s) and critically discuss their genealogy and usage within Central Asian studies. Presentations will be kept relatively short in order to secure ample space for collective reflections with the discussant (Ottavia Cima and Rune Steenberg), the chair (Paulina Simkin) and the audience.


  • Bakhtiiar Igamberdiev (Alatoo International University): Why Neoliberalism failed in Central Asia: An Economic, Institutional and epistemic analysis.
  • Michael Spies (University for Sustainable Development Eberswalde): Path dependence in Central Asia beyond postsocialism.
  • Ottavia Cima (University of Bern): Rethinking postsocialism through the lenses of postcapitalism: for a postcapitalist postsocialism.
  • Zarina Mukanova (University of Zurich): Failed nation-building and colonial narratives in Kazakhstan.
  • Katerina Zäch (University of Fribourg): The way material infrastructure thinks: Reconceiving heritage practice.
  • Kuat Akizhaov (KazGUU): Global development architecture: embedding the neoliberal socio-economic agenda in Kazakhstan.
  • Rune Steenberg (Palacky University in Olomouc): Informality, shadow economy, corruption, social capital, transformation and other state-centric analytical metaphors in Central Asian studies. Ideology in analysis.

Many thanks to everyone who made this conference so enjoyable. It was a pleasure to finally see many members of the extended CASNiG network in person, to catch up with their research and contributions, and to engage in so many interesting discussions.