What is the mobilizing and meaning-making potential of information and communication technologies (ICT s) in non-democratic regimes? This question has been studied globally, with the Arab Spring heightening the urgency and the stakes for social science theories of digital mobilization. In the semi-authoritarian regimes of Central Asia, where access to the internet has risen dramatically in the last decade, various online platforms have served as stages for state-sponsored identity construction and grassroots debates about memory and belonging. The central aim of this special issue is to advance the region-specific debate about the mobilizing potential of ICT s through
How do civil society actors in authoritarian states use the internet to mobilize and advocate for rights claims? The internet has changed the patterns of political communication for civil society actors, but the range of tactics used in autocracies remains undertheorized. In this paper, I analyze the activities of Atajurt Eriktileri, a group that petitions the Kazakhstani government on behalf of co-ethnics detained in Xinjiang, China. Empirically, I complement five semi-structured interviews with an interpretive analysis of 3,272 petition videos (an original dataset) posted to Atajurt’s YouTube channel. I identify four visual–discursive patterns and three scripts that characterize the petitions, which speak to Atajurt’s strategy of atomized collective action; this approach helps avoid the repression that comes with more traditional forms of mass mobilization. The hypervisibility of Atajurt’s social media presence challenges the dominant literature on civil society and resistance in authoritarian regimes that emphasizes hidden forms of contention.
This article contributes to the growing field of social media and internet research, focusing on questions of securitization and examining the internet politics of Central Asia with a specific focus on Turkmenistan. The article extends the brief analysis introduced by Tucker and Turaeva (2016) concerning Turkmen nationals joining IS (Islamic State). Here, I have contextualized those reported discussions into a wider geopolitical and sociological positioning of the participants (both individual and states) with the aim of uncovering the methods and principles that state and non-state actors use to construct discourses of threat and danger on social media and elsewhere on the internet. I argue that social media and the internet have moved beyond being a means for open communication and exchange; they have also come to be used by authoritarian states to suppress, control, and manipulate certain discourses. In the case of Turkmenistan, social media helps to control security discourse about the ISIS threat and the presence of Turkmenistani nationals in the group, even as it grants open access to information.
How might a leader in Central Asia take a selfie? This paper explores the Instagram accounts of the presidents of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – two countries with authoritarian regimes and varying information and communications technology – in order to reach conclusions on the evolving role of social media in governance. Instagram offers a forum where the two presidents can project their personal leadership style, draw attention to official events, potentially interact with (or received interaction from) other accounts, and use national identity images as a part of their leadership role. These activities cater to domestic audiences as well as feed into the dynamics within the wider social media sphere. This paper explores how, even though the style and substance of the two leaders’ posts differs greatly, Instagram use opens a door to posturing for a virtual audience.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict raised fears that Kazakhstani Russians outside of Russia could be mobilized by the idea of the Russkiĭ mir (Russian world), which has been actively spread on the Russian-speaking segment of social media. Although Russian- speaking social media are popular in Kazakhstan, the example of young Kazakhstani Russians demonstrates that social media usage strengthens the connection to Kazakhstan rather than to the historical “home” country. Being surrounded by visual and textual information related to Kazakhstani urban centers, local Russian youth begin to envisage and create their version of Kazakhstan based upon personal social media feeds. As a result, their civic awareness and sense of belonging to Kazakhstan raise and allow these young people to navigate and portray their national identity in a positive way.
Instagram is the world’s most popular social media tool among people under 29, including Central Asian youth. Despite the growing authoritarian grip on print and online media, more and more Tajik women are opening up on Instagram to counter the pernicious narrative that blames victims of sexual harassment and violence for speaking out against their harassers and abusers. So far, there is little research exploring the extent to which women Instagram bloggers are successful in influencing the wider female public’s perception of sexual harassment and violence. I seek to fill this gap by analyzing whether Tajik women’s exposure to information on social networks influences their awareness of sexual harassment and violence. The following article contributes to the growing body of literature discussing the transformative forces of digital activism in Central Asia by exploring empirical data gathered through a nationwide survey in Tajikistan. The results reveal the emancipatory potential of digital activism.
This paper investigates the nature of Uzbekistan’s political system under President Islam Karimov through the lenses of patronal presidentialism to explain the factors conducive to the durability of the current regime. The paper argues that the longevity of the authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan can be best understood by a methodology that reconciles the propositions of institutional analysis of authoritarian rule with conventional methods of maintaining power such as coercion and patronage. Revealing the limitation of mainstream literature that overemphasizes neopatrimonialism and informality to understand domestic politics, the paper asserts that patronal president Islam Karimov assumed multiple instruments of power at the intersection of state and economy, which ensured regime stability in Uzbekistan until his death in 2016.
This study investigates the impact of male labor migration upon wives living among their husbands’ extended families in Tajikistan. It studies the risks and choices available to such wives in bargaining for remittances, with a particular focus on the risks that daughters-in-law (kelin in Tajik) undertake when negotiating remittances with their mothers-in-law. This paper explores age and gender-specific norms in Tajik transnational families and their minimal opportunities for kelins to bargain and negotiate the risks associated with making “claims” on remittances by using Deniz Kandiyoti’s “patriarchal bargain” and Bina Agarwal’s household bargain framework, as well as extensive fieldwork conducted in Tajikistan. The study concludes that international migration and remittances have had a complex impact on gender norms in Tajikistan, with emerging new forms of passive negotiation by kelins unlikely to undermine patriarchal gender norms in their favor.