This edited volume reflects on the themes and questions raised by the transition paradigm in the Central Eurasian region. It contains eleven chapters of diverse lengths and qualities largely from the field of Political Science. The Editors set out to combine ‘rigorous theoretical work and applied political or policy analysis’. However, only a few of the chapters really achieve this objective. Stefes and Wooden provide a very thorough introduction to the main themes addressed by Political Science studies under the leitmotif of ‘transition’. In addition to the concept of transition, familiar but questionable terms such as ‘bottom-up’ and ’top-down’ are used unproblematically as is common in the discipline.
This solid introduction is followed by an interesting discourse on the ‘state of the field’ by Wooden, Aitieva and Epkenhans. Whilst this chapter seeks to reveal ‘order in the chaos’ it actually discovers a field of study which lacks established foci of debate, core theoretical concerns and a cannon of literature. This may not be a bad thing. However, studies of Islam, gender and environmental research show that those studies which either advance theory or make strikingly original empirical contributions, let alone those studies that actually achieve both, are few and far between. Somewhat amusingly, the chapter includes a table of ‘most influential scholars’ in the field which includes a number of scholars (including the author of this review) who were pre-doctoral at the time of the survey. This list, like the field overall, has a Kyrgyzstan and Political Science bias which privileges those that have spent some time at the American University in Bishkek as well as the few scholars whose work has become known in other disciplines such as Pauline Jones-Luong, Olivier Roy and Martha Brill Olcott.
In light of the disparate nature of the scholarly study of Central Asia and the Caucasus it is no surprise that the chapters in the book lack a common approach or terms of reference. Part 2 considers political contexts. Only one chapter (by Julie George) explicitly addresses both sub-regions of the former Soviet south. Nevertheless, some of the chapters stand out as solid and helpful studies. Lucan Way shows how the Soviet and immediate post-Soviet histories of Armenia and Georgia have shaped, if not determined, their divergent post-Soviet pathways. Eric McGlinchey, in a short chapter which challenges the subsequent work of Radnitz on rebellion, explores how Central Asian protest movements cannot merely be dismissed as ‘state resources’ and points to the importance of learned cooperation. The final part of the book considers policy-making legacies. Some of this work is normatively-driven and perhaps too prescriptive to be of great use to academics not directly addressing the chapter authors’ research questions (in the cases of chapters by Waters and Liczek & Wandel). Others, are simply too general in their scope (chapters by Blackmon, Bayulgen and Kissane). The short shelf-life of these chapters and their limited relevance should not surprise us as it is indicative of the transition paradigm itself.
Wooden and Stefes seek to bring these wide-ranging offerings together in a concluding essay which seeks to simultaneously deconstruct and revive the liberal concept of transition, shorn of its liberal preferences. This proves to be a difficult task and the reader is left thinking that the idea of transition may have outlived its usefulness (which may not have been very great anyway) and that this might be a good thing. Despite some significant shortcomings to this volume, particularly in terms of its coherence and the consistency of the quality of scholarship, it nevertheless includes some useful chapters. It is likely to be referred to in the future as one of the last book-length collections in the name of transition.
Contents: Part I: Framework for Analysis ― Stefes Christoph H., Wooden Amanda E., ‘Tempting Two Faces: The Theoretical Foundations for Understanding Central Asian Transitions’, 3-29; Wooden Amanda E., Aitieva Medina, Epkenhans Tim, ‘Revealing Order in the Chaos: Field Experiences and Methodologies of Political and Social Research on Central Eurasia’, 30-71; Part II: Political Contexts of Transition Variations ― George Julie A., ‘Expecting Ethnic Conflict: The Soviet Legacy and Ethnic Politics in the Caucasus and Central Asia’, 75-102; Way Lucan, ‘State Power and Autocratic Stability: Armenia and Georgia’, 103-23; McGlinchey Eric, ‘Central Asian Protest Movements: Social Forces or State Resources?’, 124-38; Part III: Policymaking Legacies and Futures ― Blackmon Pamela, ‘Following through on Reforms: Comparing Market Liberalization in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan’, 141-62; Bayulgen Oksan, ‘Caspian Energy Wealth: Social Impacts and Implications for Regional Stability’, 163-88; Waters Christopher P. M., ‘Beyond Treaty Signing: Internalizing Human Rights in Central Eurasia’, 189-204; Liczek Irina & Wandel Jens, ‘Internalization of Universal Norms: A Study of Gender Equality in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan’, 205-25; Kissane Carolyn, ‘Education in Central Asia: Traditional Challenges and Impacts’, 226-48; Wooden Amanda E., Stefes Christoph H., ‘Multivaried and Interactive Paths of Change in Central Eurasia’, 249-63