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School of Social Sciences

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BSocSc Social Anthropology
Explore human behaviour and relationships and the challenges across different cultures.

BSocSc Social Anthropology

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Space and Power in Central Asia

Unit code SOAN30402
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Anthropology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course is arranged through ten thematic sessions, each of which will introduce a broad area of scholarly concern.  This will be coupled with a more focused case-study which will be explored in the light of these broader scholarly debates.  Substantive issues that will be addressed include the remaking of public and private space in the Soviet Union, Afghanistan and the PRC, from urban planning and ‘ethnic mapping’ to border-drawing to the forcible resettlement of populations.  We will consider the legacies of such processes in the present, from anxieties over territorial integrity and contested borders to environmental degradation to the politics of the ‘commons’ in contexts of partial privatisation.  While such topics foreground how spaces are made and remade through modernist state projects, we also attend to the different ways of apprehending and producing space, from pilgrimage and trade, to seasonal herding arrangements and ritual visiting.  We will consider the spatial organisation of gender and ethnic difference; the relationship between space and sacred life; and the remaking of urban geographies in the wake of inter-communal violence. 


The course unit aims to provide a rigorous, ethnographically informed introduction to space and power in contemporary Central Asia.  For the purpose of this course, ‘Central Asia’ is taken to include the post-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, together Afghanistan and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region/East Turkestan in the People’s Republic of China.  Examples and case studies will draw from across this large cultural region.  The course will foster students’ ability to think anthropologically from Central Asia, with students being encouraged throughout the course to bring their understanding of particular empirical case studies to bear on a cluster of contemporary debates in social anthropology, including sovereignty and territoriality, conflict and ‘humanitarian intervention’, mobility and immobility, gender, ethnicity and the spatial organisation of social difference. By the end of the course, students should have a sophisticated understanding of these debates, as well a deep understanding of the anthropology this diverse, important and comparatively under-studied world region. They should also develop the skills to be able to reflect critically on the tropes, analytical categories and interpretive frameworks through which Central Asia figures in international news bulletins, policy reports, and in public culture. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students who attend and participate actively and fully will achieve the learning outcomes below.

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will be organised around a two-hour teaching block and a one-hour seminar. This will include a lecture each week, occasional film screenings, and small group presentations feeding back to a larger group. 


Learning will include face-to-face contact during lectures, seminars and office hours, and will include a 3,000 assessed learning blog.  The final assessment will be a 2-hour exam, which will consist of short-answer questions, a map exercise, and an essay.  Learning will be supported through a dedicated Blackboard site for the class. 

Knowledge and understanding

-          A informed understanding of key issues in the Anthropology of contemporary Central Asia

-          A critical awareness of the variety of ethnic and linguistic groups, modes of life and political formations found in contemporary central Asia, and an appreciation of the reasons why certain popular and scholarly designations (e.g. ‘nomad’, ‘East Turkestan’, ‘Arian’, ‘clan’, ‘Sart’) may be claimed, rejected or contested.

-          A confident knowledge of the geography of Central Asia sufficient to comment in an informed way on debates pertaining to the region, including the ability to identify particular countries, sub-national regions, capital cities, mountain regions, or disputed boundaries on a blank map.

-          An ability to engage in a critical and informed way with scholarly literatures relevant to the content of the course, and specifically to mobilise theoretical debates about space, place, territory, borders, post-socialist property, pilgrimage, gender, migration, deportation and humanitarian intervention for the analysis of particular cases.      

Intellectual skills

-          The capacity to engage critically with scholarly materials, including ethnographies, historical texts and primary sources;

-          The capacity to use these materials to engage with contemporary anthropological debates;

-          The capacity to evaluate contemporary media and popular portrayals of Central Asia, and an awareness of the genealogy of particular tropes and images;

-          The capacity to articulate one’s ideas in writing and speech, including in long-form essays, seminar presentations, blog posts and other written or oral forms’

-          The capacity to reflect upon one’s own learning style through the use of a learning journal;

-          The capacity to debate with one’s peers and to evaluate the basis for another person’s claims

Practical skills

-          The capacity to synthesise and critically evaluate book-length ethnographic arguments in the form of written and oral reports;

-          The ability to compare and contrast diverse ethnographic materials and to draw more general theoretical conclusions;

-          The capacity to present one’s argument concisely and to a time-limit with the aid of audio-visual tools;

Transferable skills and personal qualities

-          The capacity to work individually and in a group, setting one’s own learning goals

-          The capacity to reach consensus with one’s peers, as well as to articulate one’s own difference of opinion or interpretation in a reasoned and substantiated manner.  


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 50%
Written exam 50%

Learning Blog (minimum of four entries) 3000 words - 40%

Comments on other students' blogs - 500 words - 10%

2-hour final exam - 50%

Feedback methods

Student and Staff feedback on Blog entries.  Students are also entitled to ask for feedback on written examinations.

Recommended reading

Adams, Laura. 2010. The Spectacular State: Culture and National Identity in Uzbekistan.

Durham: Duke University Press.

Beyer, Judith. 2016. The Force of Custom: Law and the Ordering of Everyday Life in

Kyrgyzstan. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press

Billaud, Julie. 2015. Kabul Carnival: Gender and Politics in Postwar Afghanistan. Pennsylvania

University Press.

Coburn, Noah. 2012. Bazar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town. Stanford:

Stanford University Press.

Coburn, Noah. 2016. Losing Afghanistan: An Obituary for the Intervention. Stanford:

Stanford University Press.

Dautcher, Jay. 2009. Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community

in Xinjiang, China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Féaux de la Croix, Jeanne. 2017. Iconic Places in Central Asia: The Moral Geography of Dams,

Pastures and Holy Sites. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Harris, Colette. 2007. Control and Subversion: Gender Relations in Tajikistan. London: Pluto


Ismailbekova, Aksana. 2017. Blood Ties and the Native Son. Poetics of Patronage in

Kyrgyzstan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kassymbekova, Botakoz. 2016. Despite Cultures: Early Soviet Rule in Tajikistan. Pittsburgh:

University of Pittsburgh Press.

Khalid, Adeeb. 2015. Making Uzbekistan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Laszczkowski, Mateusz. 2016. City of the Future: Built Space, Modernity and Urban Change in

Astana. London and New York: Berghahn.

Liu, Morgan. 2012. Under Solomon’s Throne: Uzbek Visions of Renewal in Osh. Pittsburgh:

University of Pittsburgh Press.

Louw, Maria. 2007. Everyday Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia. Abingdon: Routledge

Marsden, Magnus. 2016. Trading Worlds: Afghan Merchants Across Modern Frontiers.

London: Hurst and Co.

McBrien, Julie. 2017. From Belonging to Belief: Modern Secularism and the Construction of

Religion in Kyrgyzstan. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Montgomery, David. 2016. Practicing Islam: Knowledge, Experience and Social Navigation in

Kyrgyzstan. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Mostowlansky, Till. 2017. Azan on the Moon: Entangling Modernity Along Tajikistan’s Pamir

Highway. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Nunan, Timothy. 2016. Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War

Afghanistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pelkmans, Mathijs. 2017. Fragile Conviction: Changing Ideological Landscapes in Urban Kyrgyzstan.

Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Peshkova, Svetlana. 2014. Women, Islam and Identity: Public Life in Private Spaces in

Uzbekistan. New York: Syracuse University Press.

Pétric, Boris. 2015. Where are All Our Sheep? Kyrgyzstan, a Global Political Arena. London

and New York: Berghahn.

Rasanayagam, Johan. 2011. Islam in Uzbekistan: The Morality of Experience. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Reeves, Madeleine. 2014. Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia.

Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Roche, Sophie. 2014. Domesticating Youth: Youth Bulges and their Socio-Political

Implications in Tajikistan. Oxford and New York: Berghahn

Steinberg, Jonah. 2011. Ismaili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community.

The University of North Carolina Press.

Stronski, Paul. 2010. Tashkent: Forging a Soviet City, 1930-1966.

Turaeva, Rano. 2016.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Seminars 9
Independent study hours
Independent study 169

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Madeleine Reeves Unit coordinator

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