Legal Pluralism in Kyrgyzstan. Ethnography of local jurisdiction and customary practices of management of trouble cases


Mahabat Sadyrbek

PhD defended at: 

Central Asian Studies, Institute of Social, Cultural and Educational Sciences, HU Berlin



The aim of this doctoral project is to provide a coherent arrangement of broad concepts, guiding principles and multiple, overlapping, sometimes contradictory and uncodifiable sources of law, the practical application of which (amply illustrated by case material) varies with virtually every case. My primary point of departure is legal pluralism – the coexistence of different systems and multiple sources of law, which have their own strengths and weaknesses, and which provide people with a degree of security and redress. I adopt this analytical framework for the study of “living law” (Ehrlich 1936) and law-like social control in a society by itself and on its own, endemic terms (Griffith 1984, 1986), including how various legal issues and practices are lived ‘on the ground’. In this sense, my case-oriented inquiries focus upon broad definitions of the key concepts law and justice, by describing and analyzing them in action and process through the vernacular interpretation and perception of my informants. I endeavour to hold all the ‘customary’, ‘traditional’, or ‘Kyrgyz-typical’ perspectives in view, drawing on them whenever they make sense for a piece of ethnography, and spelling out at lengths the implications of vernacular terminologies. Furthermore, I observe at close range the battle of conflicting claims – especially centered on the disputing, negotiating and working out of compromise – to identify some of the central concepts, and to reveal the dynamic interactions between actors and agents, all of whom are motivated by their individual agendas, interests and beliefs. Of particular import to my research is probing the uncharted areas between societal restraint and individual motivation, between respect for and adherence to community values and ideals, and the tendency of powerful individuals to bend rules and norms to their own ends. The thesis delivers an exhaustive description of ‘living law’ in terms of which people conduct themselves and in terms of which trouble-cases and disputes are settled within a socio-structural and economic context.