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Central Asia Initiative: Mobility and Governability in Central Asia

Report on Conference held October 18, 2008 at UCLA.

Mobility and Governability in Central Asia: Questions and Issues

Approaching the theme of Mobility and Governability from both a historical perspective and the thematic perspectives of the arts and religions of Central Asia, the conference seeks to identify and explore long-term Central Asian social or cultural characteristics of the region's social, political, religious and artistic formations. A special concern is the impact of Central Asia's distinctive geographical environments on the human scale of social and cultural activity. The basic parameters of the conference are framed by two key questions: Does mobility enable or disable governability? If so, what is the nature of this interaction between governability and mobility in different times and places?

One set of wider questions concerns historical perspectives on mobility and governability. What gets left out by thinking in terms of clear periodizations in Central Asian history, whether from mobile to sedentary government or from Islamic to Russian/Soviet rule? How have practical forms of mobility responded to the changing ideological contours of government? To what extent has the relationship between mobility and governability been re-shaped by technological innovations, whether of paper, stirrups or railroads? Does the geography of Central Asia demand ‘structuralist’ interpretations, with the environment seen as perpetually shaping human practices of mobility and governability?

A second set of questions turns to archaeological and artistic perspectives on mobility and governability. How have artistic and other material productions drawn on patterns of movement and/or government? Does the material record bear out a ‘Silk Road’ model of east/west diffusion? Or has an over-emphasis on movement seen artistic ‘spaces’ being lost on the ‘roads’ of Central Asia?

A third set of questions concerns religious perspectives. How have Central Asian religions interacted with regional patterns of mobility and governability? Has the mobility/governability nexus created common characteristics among the ‘different’ religions of Central Asia? Was religion—whether in terms of persons, institutions or theologies—more mobile in Central Asia than elsewhere?

Nile Green, Director of the UCLA Central Asia Initiative