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Increasing urbanization triggered by population growth creates additional challenges in city planning, prompting governments and municipalities to search for innovative approaches. Smart city initiatives have proven efficient solutions for emerging urban challenges in many developed countries. Smart cities aim to improve living conditions, make more efficient use of physical infrastructure, and promote environmental sustainability. Cities in Central Asia face many urban challenges, including deteriorating and aging infrastructure, traffic congestion, inadequate waste management systems, and pollution. Sustainable urban management strategies are needed to address these challenges as well as to improve citizens’ quality of life and welfare in the longer term. This article assesses the potential for introduction of smart city projects in six major cities of Central Asia (Almaty, Astana, Ashgabat, Bishkek, Dushanbe, and Tashkent), and suggests an integrative framework for subsequent analysis of smart city development in this region.

In: Central Asian Affairs

Drawing on two waves of public opinion surveys conducted in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, we investigate the rise in religiosity and orthodoxy among Central Asian Muslims. We confirm that a religious revival is underway, with nearly 100 percent of Kazakhstani and Kyrgyzstani Muslims self-identifying as such in 2012—up from 80 percent in Kazakhstan in 2007. If we dig a bit deeper, however, we observe cross-national variations. Religious practice, as measured by daily prayer and weekly mosque attendance, is up in Kyrgyzstan, but has fallen in Kazakhstan. While the share of those who express preferences associated with religious orthodoxy has grown in both, this group has more than doubled in Kazakhstan. We attribute these differences to political context, both in terms of cross-national political variation and, within each country, variation based on regional differences.

In: Central Asian Affairs

The parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan in October 2015 garnered widespread approval from commentators for the level of fairness and freedom maintained throughout the campaign. However, the results of the vote do not provide a clear indication of the current state of affairs of parliamentarism in the republic. Focusing on the commercialization of party lists, we argue that neither identity politics nor the logic of neopatrimonialism adequately explain the dynamics of political competition in Kyrgyzstan. Instead, we see perpetual uncertainty emerging from contradicting yet increasing attempts to harness the capital of privatized party lists and to impose discipline. Eventually, and beyond short-term threats of an emerging super-presidentialism, Kyrgyzstan risks suffering from hollow parliamentarism, with political parties persistently failing to supply legislative initiatives with substantial agendas and adequate professionals. The weakly institutionalized political parties and their short-sighted electoral strategies undermine both the parliamentary system and its political pluralism.

In: Central Asian Affairs

This article explores the relationship between reformatting of Bishkek’s central square “from above” and mosaics of meanings, claims, and practices produced by different social actors “from below” in response to the ongoing transformation of this space. Drawing on narratives of long-term Bishkek residents and recent internal migrants to the city, we investigate commonalities and divergences in their perception of Ala-Too’s changing image. It is shown why the square, despite its planned multifunctionality, does not fulfill the needs of various segments of the city population. We also analyze political meanings of the “emptiness” of the square and the ambivalent public reaction to the ways it is being “filled.” The square becomes a spatial mirror of society—a society that remains in constant flux, searching for social stability and for unifying national symbols, heroes, and slogans.

In: Central Asian Affairs

Important life-cycle events in Kyrgyz society are marked by the staging of large, informal feasting celebrations, known collectively as toi. This article discusses continuity and change in the materiality and spirituality of toi making, specifically in urban Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Organized on a larger scale and with more expenses than elsewhere in the country, Bishkek toi demonstrate material and spiritual reciprocities that are crucial in the reproduction of social solidarity and exclusion, as well as poverty, prestige, and power in the post-socialist context.

In: Central Asian Affairs

This article examines practices of (re-)claiming in Bishkek through the prism of “multitemporal fieldwork.” Focusing on the young male residents of a Soviet-era neighborhood, I trace their ways of performing belonging in a rapidly changing urban environment. Most significantly, these men’s coming of age has been accompanied by a gradual detachment from their exclusive focus on a neighborhood community that locally used to be known as Shanghai. Already during our first encounter in 2007, the primary territorial orientation for these residents’ social identification and integration had shifted: it then addressed the larger unit of the whole city, where the claim of “being an urbanite” was made by referring to the neighborhood’s administrative name, Iug-2. My most recent observations document not only how “married life” further disconnected these young men from the 2013 neighborhood realities, but also that a multitemporal perspective allows to (re-)contextualize various claims on Bishkek diachronically.

In: Central Asian Affairs
Author: Craig Hatcher

This article explores urban land claims made by residents living in Bishkek’s informal settlements (novostroikas) located on the edge of the city. By examining the growth of the urban periphery alongside shifts in property rights enacted through privatization programs, Bishkek’s novostroikas are a grassroots attempt to correct previous inequitable distributions of private property. The political unrest of the Tulip Revolution in 2005 and the violent events of 2010 are taken as decisive moments to challenge this unequal distribution. The article examines how the residents of novostroikas enact collective and moral claims over land that demonstrate an understanding of private property to be contextual, overlapping, and heterogeneous, rather than singular and predetermined.

In: Central Asian Affairs

In Kyrgyzstan, and especially in Bishkek, practices of social activism have been evolving and taken more meaningful and organized forms. Today, there are all kinds of activist groups and movements that are not simply struggling for resources, but feature solid ideological foundations and concrete visions. This introduction provides a brief overview of contemporary social activism in Bishkek.

In: Central Asian Affairs

In this article, we explore how religion claims its space in the city of Bishkek. The growing community of practicing Muslims asserts the right to be in the city, live according to its religious ideals, and create Islamic urban spaces. Such claims do not remain uncontested and, because religious identity has strong visual manifestation, religious claims become the subject of strong public debate. This contestation overlaps with socially constructed gender hierarchies—religious/secular claims over the urban space turn into men’s claims over women with both sides (religious and secular) claiming to know what women should wear. Yet research shows that Kyrgyz women in Bishkek do not really need fashion advice. The Islamic revivalist movement among women in the Kyrgyz capital has since the 1990s created a strong momentum that has a life of its own and is fairly independent. Muslim women wearing a hijab have become very visible and influential urban actors with their own strong claims for the city.

In: Central Asian Affairs