The logic of clan politics: Evidence from the Central Asian trajectories

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This article argues that clans, informal organizations based on kin and fictive kin ties, are political actors that have a profound impact on the nature of posttransitional regimes and the potential for regime durability. The article first develops the concept of "clan" conceptually. It then develops several propositions about clan politics and explores them empirically in the context of the post-Soviet Central Asian cases. These cases suggest the limits of the prevailing transitions and institutionalist approaches; these theories cannot explain regime transition in the Central Asian cases because they focus on the formal level and ignore the crucial informal actors- clans-and the informal politics that shape these cases. The distinct mode of transition, new regime institutions, and leadership and elite ideologies evident at the formal level have a very short-term effect; within five years, these cases converge toward a pattern of informal, clan-based politics. By contrast, this article draws upon the insights of the early literature on political development as well as the state-society literature to develop an alternative framework for explaining the dynamic between clans and the regime. Clan networks and clan deals penetrate and transform the formal regime in several ways-by clan-based appointments and patronage, by stripping state assets to feed one's clan network, and by crowding out other mechanisms of representation. As they undermine formal institutions, clans create an informal regime best understood as "clan politics".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-261
Number of pages38
JournalWorld Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* The author would like to thank Valerie Bunce, Larry Diamond, Dennis Galvan, Frances Hagopian, Shigeo Hirano, David Holloway, Goran Hyden, Gail Lapidus, Lisa Mclntosh-Sundstrom, Michael McFaul, Scott Mainwaring, Gerardo Munck, Jean Oi, Philippe Schmitter, Ronald G. Suny, Kellee Tsai, Ned Walker, two Central Asian colleagues, and four anonymous reviewers for their comments on various drafts of this article. She also thanks Amy Chambers and Tim Fiorta for research assistance. An earlier version was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Atlanta, August 2000. Funding from the U.S. Institute for Peace, the MacArthur Foundation, Stanford University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Notre Dame supported the research.


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