The “meta-discourse” (I borrow the expression from Eduard Schatz 2004) on “clans” and “tribes” has been fuelled by the Russian-language press in the region. It was then picked up by some researchers in political science who have modified the use of “clans” and “tribes” by linking them to the conceptual toolkit of functionalist social anthropology. However, the long debates on models based on descent that have been undertaken in social anthropology have gone unnoticed by political science. All this has resulted in a number of works on “clan dynamics”, “clan politics” or “clans” as “identity networks” that are poorly backed by empirical evidence. This is how Scott Radnitz’s article makes a difference. Instead of using to the ready-made models of networking and mobilisation, he proceeds patiently first by introducing the setting and next by following the processes of mobilisation on local level, both in terms of leaders and in terms of participants. The empirical ground of the forthcoming analysis is thus accurately set up and the reader is served to a piece of high-quality ethnography, not so common a fact in political analyses of this region. The study itself focuses on six topics: the participants, the “clan factor,” the leaders, the mechanisms of mobilisation or the motivations of the participants, and the networks. On each, Scott Radnitz succeeds in breaking some clichés that have dominated recent social analyses of Central Asia. Thus the leaders are neither former nomenklatura members nor newly hatched businessmen; they are simply respected members of the community who in the flow and ebb of everyday life provide for the retreating state but who on special circumstances use their authority and experience to mobilise people against the state. As for mobilisation mechanisms, it seems worth underlying that reputation (namys in Kyrgyz, from Persian namus) seems to outplay any other type of motivation or coercion. I will not discuss all the topics in detail since I would like to dwell more extensively on the participants, the “clan factor” and the networks.
Besides a detailed account of the demographics of participants, Scott Radnitz points at the large diversity of linkages on the basis of which people are involved into action and concludes that “blood kinship” or “blood relatives” play only a minor role in the processes of mobilisation, organisation and coordination. Explaining then the Aksy events in terms of a “clan conflict” appears as an oversimplification: As S. Radnitz describes it, people do seem attached to their “tribal identity” but the social field in which they act is not made up exclusively of unilineal kinship relations, the latter overlap with relations of neighbourhood, locality, marriage, friendship, etc. He is also quite convincing in showing that such an identity neither prevents people from uniting nor does it act as a basis of group formation. I find these observations valid but I disagree with the terms employed. I insist that identifying oneself by descent, or linking oneself to a patrilineal genealogical line that is in its turn inserted within a genealogical chart, does not result into a “tribal identity” since a genealogical line is just a category and not a group or a tribe. Such a mode of identification results in a “genealogical identity”. Furthermore, this genealogical identity does not exist only as mythology and memory since it is still quite important in marriage relations and in ritual; it might even be politicised but genealogy-based categories do not grow into groups by themselves. I wonder also whether “network” is the most suitable concept for analysing the particular type of mobilisation and action that took place in Aksy. The action-set, as defined by Mayer (1977), seems to be a better way to describe the step-by-step involvement into action of more and more people on very diverse bases (kinship, neighbourhood, peer pressure, reputation, persuasion). The concept might appear as outdated but it has the merit of not being as overused as “network”. Scott Radnitz’ article promises to break the spell of phantom clans and tribes that have so far ensnared analyses of Central Asian politics.