Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology University of Zurich


Halle-Zurich Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia

In 2012 the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Department Integration and Conflict) and the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Zurich, established the ‘Centre for Anthropological Studies on Central Asia’ (CASCA). With this move they formalized and strengthened a long existing collaboration between both institutions to create a forum of distinguished anthropological engagement with the region to which members of these two units have contributed significantly during the last twenty years.

We use the term Central Asia in a rather broad way including the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and the Mongolian and Tibetan-speaking areas occasionally labelled as Inner Asia, as well as adjacent regions in northern Afghanistan and Iran or southern Siberia. Research is equally conducted on the new and old Diasporas of Central Asians living in places like Moscow or Istanbul. This gives credit to the many similarities in geographical, historical and cultural terms that have shaped the life of people in the region, including a continental and arid climate, an economy traditionally based on irrigated agriculture, pastoral nomadism and trade as well as similarities in social organization and religious practices.

As a crossroad between various parts of the Eurasian continent, Central Asia has always been a source as well as a destination of cultural and political influences far beyond its boundaries. Once a cradle of world empires like the various Turkic and Mongolian statehoods it later became a colonial backwater subdued to Russian and Chinese dominance before taking part in one of the largest human experiments, the creation of socialist systems and their more recent reversals. In academia as well as in public Central Asia is still a little known part of the world. This is particularly true for empirical disciplines like anthropology because access for research was highly limited during the socialist period and, in many parts, beyond. This has changed to some degree in recent years and a number of studies on the current transformation processes and the need for people to adopt in economic, social as well as cultural terms have been conducted. From an anthropological perspective particular attention is given to the local perspective of people who, in a world of changing geo-political strategies and national power struggles, try to create new meanings to their lives. This includes, for example, issues of economic relationships and stratification, new forms of social cooperation, ethnic identification and alliances as well as the revival and reconfiguration of religious schemes.

The aim of CASCA is to foster empirically grounded research on these and related topics from an anthropological perspective and to strengthen its position within the discipline as a regionally defined sub-field. It does so in close cooperation and as part of a global network of colleagues and academic institutions. In addition to its research agenda CASCA is also committed to developing teaching facilities on the level of BA-, MA- and PhD courses as well as international summer schools and regular courses.