SOAS University of London

Centre of Contemporary Central Asia & the Caucasus

Networks, informality, and corruption: how to parse Central Asian governance


Date: 24 January 2019Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 24 January 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: Panel Discussion


Three decades after the collapse of the USSR, the allied discourses/paradigms of transition and democratisation have run out of steam, analytic force, and explanatory value in accounting for the observed changes in Central Asian states and societies, along with broadly parallel changes in their post-Soviet cousins. The celebration of 'colour revolutions' (Orange, Rose, Tulip) has receded into embarrassed or puzzled silence. In the view of most informed students of the region (and Eurasian space more generally), a novel and distinctive profile of governance has emerged and become consolidated, which exhibits significant points of continuity but of rupture as well with Soviet governance.  The rise of so-called patronal politics or systems (in the coinage of Henry Hale)  has little to do with 'liberal market democracy' as an ideal-type and is instead predicated on the central role of informal, organised networks of patronage and loyalty. Network or patronal systems thoroughly blur the boundaries between the public and the private, the political and the economic, the formal and the informal, the legitimate and the corrupt. Central Asian governing networks, typically organised in a pyramidal fashion with an apex leader (usually holding the chief executive office of President) and a complex, nested set of subordinate patron-client ties, exercise the real governing power by means of securing and occupying the bureaucratic posts and political offices comprising formal public authority, and then regulating access to it and directing its operation.  Only in recent years have the specific characteristics and dynamics (and they are very dynamic, notwithstanding the apparent stasis) of these systems come to be appreciated by scholars as forming a pattern or type and to be subjected to investigation and analysis. Three expert panellists with differing albeit complementary disciplinary perspectives (politics, economics, and law), wide experience in the region, and deep knowledge of informal  practices and patterns will explore the ramifications of Central Asian governing networks, in the interests of deepening our understanding both of post-Soviet Central Asia and of contemporary informal governance.


  • Prof Alena Ledeneva (UCL-SSEES)
  • Dr Abel Polese (Dublin City U, Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction)
  • Scott Newton (SOAS Law)


Speakers Biographies

Prof Alena Ledeneva

Alena Ledeneva is Professor of Politics and Society at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London.

Alena is an internationally renowned expert on informal governance in Russia. Her research interests include corruption, informal economy, economic crime, informal practices in corporate governance, and role of networks and patron-client relationships in Russia and around the globe. Her books Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange (Cambridge University Press, 1998), How Russia Really Works: Informal Practices in the 1990s (Cornell University Press, 2006), and Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2013) have become must-read sources in Russian studies and social sciences.

She received her PhD in Social and Political Theory from Cambridge University (1996). Currently, she is the pillar leader of the multi-partner research project.


Dr Abel Polese 

Abel Polese is a Senior Research Fellow with DCU Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction. He has been a Marie Curie Fellow at the Technical University of Dresden, Germany (2006-2008) and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (2008-2011). In 2012-2013 he worked  as a policy analyst for the European Commission (DG Research). 

In the past seven years, Abel has been awarded funding for nearly 10 million euro and has worked as a consultant for a the governmental and non profit sector in Europe, Asia and Latin America (Austrian and Finnish Agencies for Erasmus+; Estonian Research Council; Rustaveli Foundation; SALTO; YouthForum; WAGGGS; UNOPS). His project “Sustainable Development in Cultural Diversity” received the Global Education Award by the Council of Europe in 2011. 

He is a member of the Global Young Academy, gathering scholars from around the world active in research policy and dialogue with non-academic institutions and has been a visiting fellow to the University of Toronto, Harvard University, Renmin University of China, Tbilisi State University, Jawarlahal Nehru University, Tezpur University, Corvinus University, University of Cagliari and the Moscow Higher School of Economics.He is co-editor of STSS, an open access journal indexed in SCOPUS focusing on governance and social issues the non-Western world.


Scott Newton

Scott Newton is Reader in Laws of Central Asia at SOAS. He has held the HEFCE-created post since 1999, teaching and conducting research in the legal-institutional transition in Russia/Central Asia; law, development and globalisation; and human rights and conflict. He specialises in Soviet and post-Soviet law and has concentrated on Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Russia.  He serves as Chair of the SOAS Centre for Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus and is the author of Law and the making of the Soviet world: the red demiurge (Routledge 2014), and The constitutions of the Central Asian States: a comparative and contextual analysis (Hart 2016), as well as multiple articles and book chapters. He has lived, worked and researched for extended periods in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan (and elsewhere) and has consulted on legal assistance programmes/assessments across the former USSR for the World Bank, ADB, DfID, USAID and others, as well as providing expert testimony on Russian and Central Asian Law in English legal proceedings (and elsewhere). For the past three years he has been carrying out research under the DfID Anti-Corruption Evidence programme, serving as co-investigator with Alena Ledeneva and Claudia Baez-Camargo (Basel Institute of Governance) for the initial phase and principal investigator for the follow-on phase. The project explores the significance, role and dynamics of informal governing networks across seven countries (4 in East Africa and 3 post-Soviet) and the follow-on research focusses on the interface and interplay between informal networks and formal legal-institutional structures, processes, and reforms.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Contemporary Centre of Central Asia and the Caucasus

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