Economic strategies and social networks of female Uighur traders and merchants in Zharkent
Verena La Mela
(University of Zurich, Switzerland)
This paper focuses on economic strategies and the composition of social networks of female Uighur traders and merchants in southeastern Kazakhstan. The field site, Zharkent, is a mid-sized trading town close to the Chinese border and is populated mostly by Uighurs. The area around the Kazakhstan-China border is currently opening up and undergoing tremendous infrastructural development, which means that Zharkent is in the middle of an important economic corridor that links the People`s Republic of China, Central Asia and Europe. Against the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union, I argue that female Uighur traders` and merchants' economic strategies are in the process of adapting to the changing infrastructure and political situation. Regarding economic strategies, I stress the importance of social networks. Who is involved in trade and business? What are patterns of support? Where are these networks located? In contrast to the common scholarly assumption that kinship is less important for Uighurs than is identification through place, I argue that kinship ties are important for how these Uighur women conceive of their trade and business networks, and so are significant for how they identify themselves and others. The paper is based on a year of ethnographic field work in Zharkent, involving participant observation, in-depth interviews and a quantitative questionnaire.
Economic and social transformations in Kazakstan: The case of Zheti-Suw