Contesting danger: a new agenda for policy and scholarship on Central Asia

John Heathershaw, Nick Megoran

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    Abstract

    Western geopolitical discourse misrepresents and constructs Central Asia as an inherently and essentially dangerous place. This pervasive ‘discourse of danger’ obscures knowledge of the region, deforms scholarship and, because it has policy implications, actually endangers Central Asia. This article identifies how the region is made knowable to a US–UK audience through three mutually reinforcing dimensions of endangerment: Central Asia as obscure, oriental, and fractious. This is evidenced in the writings of conflict resolution and security analysts, the practices of governments, the activities of international aid agencies and numerous lurid films, documentaries and novels. The article first establishes the tradition of inscribing danger to Central Asia, in both academic and policy discourse, from the colonial experience of the nineteenth century through to the post-Soviet transition and subsequent considerations of the region in terms of the war on terror. It considers several examples of this discourse of danger including the popular US TV drama about presidential politics, The West Wing, the policy texts of ‘Washingtonian security analysis’ and accounts of danger, insecurity and urban violence in the Ferghana Valley. It is argued that popular policy and academic texts are relatively consistent across the three dimensions of endangerment. This argument is demonstrated through a discussion of how policy-making and practice is informed by this discourse of danger and of how the discourse of danger is contested within the region. The example of urban violence in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and Jalalabad, Afghanistan in 2010 demonstrates how opportunities to mitigate conflict may have been lost due to the distortions of this discourse of danger. It concludes by raising the challenge to policy-makers, journalists and academics to contest this western geopolitical discourse and provide better accounts of how danger is experienced by Central Asians.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInternational Affairs
    Volume87
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)589-612
    ISSN0130-9641
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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