Workshop: Practices of Traditionalization in Central Asia

“Tradition” has frequently been invoked in the context of Central Asian nation-building projects and there has been a tendency to investigate it “from above” by focusing on elites, political actors in powerful positions, and intellectuals who are often encouraged or urged to perform and write in the name of the nation. This body of literature has yielded important insights into the rational motivations behind invoking “tradition”. In this workshop, we aim to transcend this body of scholarly literature by offering exciting new anthropological research that complicates the assumption that state power can and will monopolize tradition. Practices of traditionalization can thus be both inclusive and exclusive, integrative as well as divisive. While elites might be imposing their views and interests and try to force others to accept them as the (new) rules of the game, demotic actors always have the capacity to re-interpret and challenge top-down models. Investigating tradition from the perspective of practice allows one to study how tradition comes into being in the first place, how it gets legitimized but also how it is challenged, refuted or claimed.


In a workshop on November 16-18 2017, a group of Central Asia scholars came together to discuss a special issue we are intending to submit to Central Asian Survey (CAS) on practices of traditionalization. Tradition does matter in Central Asia: it aggregates people, motivates individual and collective action, informs policy, public debates, law, and representation, and is – despite its often enough strategic inception – affectively powerful. Hence, working from the understanding that there are no structural differences between the inventions of demotic actors and those of elites, we focus instead on the practical ways in which tradition is put to use, by whom and for what ends. 

Continuing to highlight the importance of tradition in ongoing nation-building processes, the attention of our special issue will lie on the ‘everydayification’ (paraphrasing Weber’s Veralltäglichung) of tradition, in arenas ranging from political demonstrations (Beyer and Kojobekova), industrial workers’ gatherings (Trevisani), UNESCO meetings (Coskun), local councils (Gonzales), institutions of religious education (Müller), minority communities (Ptackova), the household (Cleuziou), and even the internet (Kudaibergenova). Stay tuned!