Gul Berna Ozcan. Building States and Markets - Enterprise Developments in Central Asia. London: Palgrove MacMillan. 2010.

Book Reviewer: Dr. Sevket Akyildiz

Gul Berna Ozcan, Building States and Markets - Enterprise Developments in Central Asia (London: Palgrove MacMillan, 2010, pp. 291. ISBN978-1-4039-9161-4. pp. 291., £50.00 hb).

 

In the world of contemporary Central Asian research the newly published text by Gul Berna Ozcan is very welcome and informative. As a Reader in International Business and Strategy she comes from the right intellectual background to examine the developing region of Central Asia and explain how and why Western capitalist influenced business practices function in the way they do across the region. Many texts debate state-building and people-building, her work is unique because she introduces market building into the discourse. Indeed, her book touches upon an important but neglected theme in the context of Central Asia studies since 1991 - that of business practices and business morality in contemporary Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan. Her analysis is based upon her fieldwork in the region between 2004 and 2007. Using local translators she investigated the nature and development of private business (and entrepreneurial operations) in the former Soviet republics noted above. In particular she focuses upon and relationships between business communities, the state and international agencies - and how these compare and contrast in the three Central Asian republics.

 

This is a very interesting topic area as before 1991 the centralised planning of the Soviet economic model advanced a one size fits all template. Theoretically private enterprise and the concept of the entrepreneur were forbidden. In reality small-scale economic activity had occurred in Central Asia during Soviet rule and thrived in the rural sector post-1950. (See the works written in the 1980s and 1990s by Shirin Akiner, J. Qvortrup and Michael Rywkin for further evidence on private trade.) However, post-1991 a group of local economic actors - the entrepreneurs- took advantage of the changing social world and established themselves as private economic actors willing to navigate the risk issues, legal loop-holes and existing social structures of privilege. Ozcan defines entrepreneurs "to be all those who run businesses and endure risks and uncertainty in the market, irrespective of their enterprise size" (p. xiv).

 

This text is structured into nine chapters that address specific elements of the new markets, entrepreneurs and their identity, their moral influences and behaviour, gender issues and the role of external economic actors and aid organizations. In Chapter One analyses the type of governments formed post-1991, the reliance upon natural resources (a Soviet legacy), and the emigration of the local youth to other, richer countries (notably Russia). Chapter Two discusses the new post-Soviet entrepreneurial middle classes, and social stratification caused by economic factors. Ozcan uses the metaphor of the Mikado game and I think that she does this very well, and thereby explains the shifting and problematic nature (in the context of partially democratic states) of businessmen and entrepreneurs as they scramble to access resources and accumulate profit. In Chapter Three she categories Central Asian entrepreneurs in the context of their ethnic make-up, age, gender; and details their perceptions of the new state economic institutions and their expectations of the political elites. Chapter Four discusses the importance of the bazaar in the "commercial landscape". Gender and female entrepreneurs are debated in Chapter Five. Chapter Six argues that the working relationship between the business groups and the state are complex and defy simple accusations of coercion (by the state). However, this raises questions of law enforcement and operational practices such as "self-governing syndicates" (p. xxi). Moving on, in Chapter Seven Ozcan introduces the important theme of international actors in this new economic milieu (with particular reference to Kirghizstan). Here she examines community based tourism as a route out of the macro-level economic problems.

 

The entire work leads the reader to consider (in Chapter Eight) an important factor in economic modelling (and ideological influence), whether one is considering Central Asia or any other country, and this refers to moral behaviour and practices in economic decision-making. Ozcan uses empirical analysis as well as a review of core secondary literature; her investigation draws on classic moral philosophy: "I [Ozcan] examine the moral positioning among entrepreneurs in three analytical categories: the core morality of doing business, the virtue of duty, and the greater good" (p. xxii). With the demise of Soviet (European Enlightenment influenced) collective civic values and the civic identification the result has been the re-emergence of Islamic values. These Islamic values do not mean a wholesale adoption of Islam and Islamic practices in society but the use of select elements, in a pragmatic context, to give their society experiencing flux and social uncertainty some semblance of order and shared purpose. Thus the return of Islam in the social sphere comes not from religious criteria as much as ethical and philosophical need; Imams don't understand the nuances of modern market building (p. 218). Furthermore, the building of markets requires "the promotion of harmonious moral regimes, safeguarded by formal and informal institutions. However the weaknesses of intellectual cadres and the greediness of political leadership delay reforms for a lawful society and consequently hinders market growth" (p. 218).

It is timely that Ozcan's book investigates the emergence and functions of entrepreneurs in society and returns our analytical framework back to the economic sphere (though not this time towards Marx's economic view). Rather it seeks to explore and explain how the capitalist model is developing and evolving in Central Asia. Indeed this is highly readable and original text, and we all wait to see how the Central Asian republics develop economically in the coming years at a local level and with their powerful neighbours of China and Russia, and also Europe, Turkey, Iran, India and Japan. I recommend this book for university students and academics new to the area, business people considering investing in the region, and anyone wishing to gain an insight and understanding into the economic landscape of Central Asia and the economic psychology of Central Asian entrepreneurs today.

Sevket Akyildiz Ph.D. (School of Oriental and African Studies, London).