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Study of folklore in Central Asia Studies has been strongly impaired by the Soviet prejudices and policies against oral culture, and, consequently, it is typically absent in the post-Soviet research agenda. Existing scholarship tends to privilege printed material - the edition, translation, and commentaries of material that typically falls into the category of epics - while leaving the complex process of transmission, collection, and preservation understudied. The participants in this panel suggest bringing these issues to the foreground by adopting new transdisciplinary approaches to the study of the Manas epic in Kyrgyzstan. In their focus on contemporary performances and performers, they problematize common assumptions regarding “tradition”, “authenticity”, and “national heritage”, and highlight the complex interplay between various categories of social actors - performers, scholars, the state - as a significant means to understand the ongoing negotiation of national, culture, and identity in Central Asia. In discussing the changing categorisation of performers involved in the preservation and transmission of the Manas epic in the Soviet period and after independence (Julien Bruley), exploring the relationship between printed Soviet variants and texts produced in-performance by contemporary performers (James Plumtree), demarking the debates on a recent “illegitimate” “untraditional” ten volume rendition of the epic (Nienke van der Heide and Gulnara Aitpaeva), and examining the rejection-turned-adoption of a performer from China as a method of securing the status of Manas epic as “Kyrgyzstan’s heritage” (Svetlana Jacquesson), this panel emphasizes both the importance of oral culture for the region and for contemporary research