Active Citizens in a Weak State: ‘Self-Help’ Groups and the Post-Soviet Neoliberal Subject in Contemporary Kyrgyzstan
Date: 6 August 2020
Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies
Taylor and Francis / Shanghai International Studies University
This article explores the new political subjectivities that are emerging in disadvantaged communities in Kyrgyzstan following post-Soviet state transformation and retreat. It explores the ways in which the collapse of the Soviet-era bureaucracy and emergence of a marketizing yet rent-seeking state bureaucracy has facilitated the ...
This article explores the new political subjectivities that are emerging in disadvantaged communities in Kyrgyzstan following post-Soviet state transformation and retreat. It explores the ways in which the collapse of the Soviet-era bureaucracy and emergence of a marketizing yet rent-seeking state bureaucracy has facilitated the emergence of ‘active citizens’ in self-built shanty towns in two locations in Kyrgyzstan – the capital, Bishkek, and the Issyk Kul resort region in the east. Based on participant observation and research interviews with members of so-called ‘self-help groups’ in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, in which residents co-organise to lobby local government for basic amenities and pool funds to raise money for community infrastructure and services in the absence of a functioning state, the chapter makes two contributions to understanding the nature of citizenship in the context of weak, post-Soviet states. First, it suggests that, rather than seeing self-organised citizens as a threat to stability – a perspective common to non-liberal governments – these initiatives are supported and encouraged by the Kyrgyz authorities, since they perform tasks and provide services in lieu of the weak state. Autonomous citizens who can take responsibility for their own welfare are useful when the state cannot provide adequate services. Hence, leaders of weak states are able to recontextualise global neoliberal discourses of active citizenship, which emphasise autonomous, rational citizens, in order to legitimise their functional inabilities. Second, it seeks to problematise the binary distinction between the ‘passive Soviet citizen’ and the modern, post-Soviet active citizen, evident in government and international NGO discourses, and suggests that that the idea of the ‘passive Soviet citizen’ is a discursive trope utilised to distinguish desirable from undesirable subjectivity in the post-Soviet market state.
College of Social Sciences and International Studies
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