Bridging the State and Society: Case Study of Mahalla Institutions in Uzbekistan

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Uzbekistan, after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, had publicly declared that it would adhere to democratic governance principles in designing and implementing its public administration policies. As a newly-independent state with democracy claims, Uzbekistan had tried to establish new democratic institutions with an effort to capture international community’s attention and attract foreign direct investment.

For a brief period during the first stages of nation-building process there was a widespread assumption that Uzbekistan would be able to build democratic institutions and market-based economy through reforming its public administration system. Consequently, decentralization reforms had been launched in order to promote the efficiency of public administration at the local level. The main aim of these decentralization reforms was to abandon Soviet-style governance in which the public administration system was centrally-planned. Pre-Soviet institutions and popular traditions have been chosen as a basis for these public administration reforms. Accordingly, pre-Soviet Mahalla institutions (local community groups) presented themselves as feasible solutions. Prior to these reforms, mahallas heavily relied on social norms to enforce the cooperative behavior in the community. The adoption of the Mahalla Law in 1993 (revised in 1999) has strictly formalized the activities of mahallas, thereby indirectly incorporating them into the system of public administration. Mahallas are no longer local informal institutions, now they have become the government’s main agency responsible for implementing social welfare programs and maintaining social order and stability. In the light of growing economic, social and political challenges, mahallas have become the focal point of public policies where the law, social forces and informal economic structures come to interplay. This paper uses mahalla institutions as a case study to examine the nature and paradoxes of state-society relations in post-Soviet Uzbekistan. It is argued that public administration reforms since 1991 have transformed mahallas into the comprehensive system of social control, and therefore, mahallas can be places of democratic transformations or sites of authoritarianism in Uzbekistan.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNorms between law and society: A collection of Essays from Doctorates from Different Academic Subjects and Different Parts of the World
EditorsHakan Hyden
Number of pages133
Place of PublicationLund
PublisherMedia Tryck
Publication date1 Dec 2011
ISBN (Print)1403-7246
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011
MoE publication typeB2 Book chapter

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