Living Law and Political Stability in Post-Soviet Central Asia. A Case Study of the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan
Abstract: Central Asian countries are facing multidimensional political stability and security challenges in the post-Soviet period. Current scholarly discussions of political stability in post-Soviet Central Asia continue to revolve around the issues of Islamic upheaval, ethnic conflicts, civil war or inter-clan struggles, and how the authoritarian regimes in this region deploy coercive strategies and penal sanctions to cope with political instability. There is a lack of research, though, that addresses the relationship between welfare structures and political stability. It is evident that political and coercive strategies are crucial variables, but insufficient when trying to understand the complexities and dynamic nature of political stability. This thesis, through a case study of the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan, investigates the relationship between welfare and political stability, and thereby aims to contribute to a better understanding of the post-Soviet transformations in Central Asian societies. Another equally important purpose of the thesis is to contribute to theory development in the sociology of law. The thesis seeks to answer the following overarching research question: Given the three suggested means of political stability (coercion, welfare, and informal institutions) that states have at their disposal, what are the possibilities to promote legitimate and long-term political stability in post-Soviet Central Asia? The thesis employs multiple research methods, consisting of an ethnographic method, a literature review, a socio-legal method, and an historical method. The first-hand data comes from three periods of ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2009 and 2012 in the Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan. The thesis draws on the concept of ‘living law’, the ‘state-in-society’ approach and the concept of norms to provide a theoretical framework, and model for analysing the empirical data. The research findings show that due to the obvious failure of the Central Asian governments to address the structural inequalities and market defects, informal welfare structures such as mahalla have come to serve as an alternative source of job creation and social safety nets, and thereby prevent the occurrence of political instability. However, these developments have had far-reaching repercussions for state-society relations and political stability in Central Asia, leading to a crisis of state legitimacy. As a result, the informal structures are quite omnipresent phenomena in Central Asia, while the laws and image of the states have limited meaning in everyday life. Due to this crisis of legitimacy, the political stability in Central Asia has become very shaky, which is why the states in this region increasingly rely on coercion and intimidation as an exclusive means of social control. As the findings indicate, informal welfare structures can provide only short-term solutions to political stability, and thus there is a need for more extensive state-driven welfare measures. Hence, the thesis suggests that strong welfare measures can serve as a legitimate pathway for building long-term political stability in Central Asia. This is a compilation thesis in sociology of law, which includes four articles, published or forthcoming in international and peer-reviewed journals or scientific anthologies, and an introductory summary containing theoretical, methodological, results and analysis chapters.
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