The Central Asian republics witnessed major structural changes in state-society relationships following their sudden independence upon the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Social Republics (USSR) in 1991. Post-Soviet leaders engaged in different paths of state-building and economic development to reassert political legitimacy and restore government functions. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, state authorities imposed a rapid transition to a market economy and opened the political system by loosening state control over society. Reforms aimed to establish a new framework of relationships between the governing elite and citizens.Aparticular challenge was to transform the structures and practices inherited from the Soviet regime by replacing the state socialist ideology withWestern-imported market values intended to facilitate cooperation with and among citizens. Twenty years into the post-Soviet transition, it is time to perform a reality check and look back at the nature of social transformations, the response of non-state actors, and the social trends generated by the reforms across CentralAsia. This chapter aims to provide a fresh perspective on postSoviet transition by taking informal practices as the main indicator of governance in analysing state-society relations in post-Soviet Central Asia. It will review the functions of social networks and the evolution of networking practices, asking whether the occurrence of informal practices in state-society relations has diminished with the implementation of market reforms. The main focus of this chapter will be to determine the extent to which social networking practices today in Central Asia represent continuity or rupture with the Soviet past. To answer this question, the analysis will be divided into three main sections. The first section will provide a description of Soviet-era networking practices to underline their distinct features. The second section will look at the structural changes in state-society relations during the transition period and the role of informal practices in shaping these. The third section will examine the combined effects of political transition and market reforms on social networks and will lay out long-term implications for CentralAsian societies.

An analysis of informal practices in the post-Soviet context presupposes an adequate anthropological framework. This chapter will refer to the work of anthro-

pologists in locating the functions of informal practices within the Soviet system in Central Asia. A field-based perspective will also help us understand the context of the post-Soviet period and what social transformations unfolded. An anthropological approach will enable us to identify networking practices that are the product of interaction betweenWestern-imported market norms and existing postSoviet realities. I will draw on anthropologists’ research on the effects of reforms on people’s everyday lives and how they respond within their environment. This approach will be helpful to highlight that transition contexts are characterised by a co-existence between informal and formal practices, tensions between competing social norms and dynamics, and ultimately by a high degree of uncertainty over their end result. This chapter will remain rooted in a context-sensitive analysis to avoid repeating previous shortcomings associated with an overreliance on the transition paradigm. The democratisation school made the wrong assumption that the move of successor states of the Soviet Union towards democracy was inevitable.1 Our methodology will be guided by this quote from anthropologist Katherine Verdery: ‘what we can understand of something depends on how we think our way into it in the first place.’2