University of Massachusetts Amherst

Search Google Appliance




Order at the Bazaar: Power and Trade in Central Asia (Cornell University Press), 2017.  Also available from Amazon

Order at the Bazaar delves into the role of bazaars in the political economy and development of Central Asia. Bazaars are the economic bedrock for many throughout the region―they are the entrepreneurial hubs of Central Asia. However, they are often regarded as mafia-governed environments that are largely populated by the dispossessed. By immersing herself in the bazaars of Kyrgyzstan, Regine A. Spector learned that some are rather best characterized as islands of order in a chaotic national context.

Spector draws on interviews, archival sources, and participant observation to show how traders, landowners, and municipal officials create order in the absence of a coherent government apparatus and bureaucratic state. Merchants have adapted Soviet institutions, including trade unions, and pre-Soviet practices, such as using village elders as the arbiters of disputes, to the urban bazaar by building and asserting their own authority. Spector's findings have relevance beyond the bazaars and borders of one small country; they teach us how economic development operates when the rule of law is weak.

Featured on Central Asianist podcast (November 2017) with Nate Schenkkan, available here  or here.  

Featured on the Voices of Central Asia website (July 2018) with Marintha Miles, available here

Reviewed in Perspectives on Politics (August 2018), available here, as well as in Slavic Review (2018), Central Asian Affairs (2018) with author response, and Nationalities Papers (2019)

Awarded Honorable Mention from the Global Development Studies section of the International Studies Association (ISA)  (Spring 2018)

Awarded Honorable Mention for the Ed A. Hewett Book Prize from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) (Fall 2018):  "Order at the Bazaar is a beautifully and engagingly written, meticulously researched, and empirically rich study offering a broad and significant theoretical contribution that transcends the boundaries of the region." 


Selected Peer-Reviewed Articles

2019 "Property, Lawfare and the Politics of Hope in Weak States," Polity 51:1 (2019): 3-34.

This article asks why property claimants bring their cases to court in authoritarian regimes when many perceive the system to be corrupt and coopted by more powerful political players. An in-depth case study in Kyrgyzstan shows how an elite property claimant (Azim) sought to build authority for his property claims and to facilitate their continued salience in fluid political contexts by taking cases to court. Although Azim filed and won cases, the rulings were not enforced; yet he still continued to make claims, hoping that changing political environments would at some future time lead to the creation of authoritative bureaucratic and enforcement mechanisms that would render those claims valid. My broader finding is that in weak rule-of-law societies, it is important to take seriously the interplay between aspirational motivations and political contexts in order to understand the pursuit of legal strategies that would otherwise seem puzzling.

2018 "Manufacturing and Migration in Eurasia," Europe-Asia Studies 70:10 (2018): 1668-88. 

This article investigates the social foundations of apparel manufacturing in Kyrgyzstan. Drawing upon interviews and a survey of Bishkek-based workshop owners, a bottom-up analysis finds that many are family businesses that started producing clothing after the country’s independence in 1991. I discuss here how they acquired the capital and knowledge necessary for this business, and how they mobilised a variety of migration-related experiences and relationships—often related to bazaar work—to compete in the sector. The findings contribute to a growing literature on how migration can facilitate family-based manufacturing in the post-Soviet region, although not without significant costs and challenges.

2018 "A Regional Production Network in a Predatory State: Export-Oriented Production at the Margins of the Law," Review of International Political Economy 25:2 (2018): 169-189.

As middle-income countries have grown their manufacturing sectors considerably over recent decades, attention has turned to countries that fall at the bottom of the industrial ladder. In such countries, challenges related to corruption combined with intensely competitive pressures from China and other countries appear to preclude possibilities for state leaders and bureaucracies to engineer industrial growth. Drawing upon an original survey of 229 apparel shop owners in Kyrgyzstan and dozens of interviews, this article analyzes the creation of a regional Eurasian production network in a country where we would least expect to see manufacturing dynamism. I adopt an everyday international political economy approach to the study of production networks in this country – considered to have a challenging business environment with high corruption – focusing on the ways in which shop owners and other intermediaries understand and relate to state bureaucrats at different nodes of the network. Doing so expands our understanding of the varieties of pathways to contemporary export-oriented production, including ones that emerge at the margins of the law.

2017 "New Shopowners in Old Buildings: Infrastructure, Electricity, and Apparel Production in Kyrgyzstan," ​(with Aisalkyn Botoeva, Brown University), Post Soviet Affairs 33:3 (2017): 235-253.

In this article, we combine a political economy approach with insights from the political geography literature to provide a fresh look at the reconstitution of apparel production in a post-Soviet city. This article offers an answer to the puzzle of a booming apparel sector in a region known for significant challenges in electricity access and availability. In contrast to theories that have analyzed the role of state policies and informal relations in promoting industrialization, we build upon theories of relational space and the understudied role of elite-controlled urban infrastructure to understand this sector in Kyrgyzstan. Using original interviews of small apparel shop owners in Bishkek between 2011 and 2014, we find that they drove the sector in privatized Soviet-era buildings. Despite the poor physical condition of the buildings and the high rents, they sought these spaces because of their convenient central location and constant provision of electricity. At the same time, however, they dreamed about moving into workshops in other parts of the city to escape what they perceived as bad conditions and exploitative relationships. This article contributes to our understanding of how everyday shop owners make sense of and grapple with challenges in their work in a new market context, against the backdrop of Soviet infrastructural legacies and post-Soviet privatization processes. 

2013    “Sewing to Satisfaction: Craft-based Entrepreneurs in Contemporary Kyrgyzstan” (with Aisalkyn Botoeva, Brown University), Central Asian Survey 32:4 (2013): 487-500.  In a special issue on “Well-Being in Central Asia,” with guest editor David W. Montgomery, University of Pittsburgh.

This article focuses on the reassembling of apparel production in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. We contribute to this special issue on well-being in Central Asia by examining how individual craft-based apparel producers, a subset of producers in the apparel industry, describe the process through which they built upon their Soviet past and re-oriented their professional trajectories in a new competitive market environment. These producers locate professional satisfaction in their ability to draw upon and creatively re-employ local knowledge and experience learned in Soviet institutions, ultimately – as they articulate and perceive – deriving pride and well-being from the process of selling highly-regarded ethnically-inspired apparel products both at home and abroad.

2008   “Bazaar Politics: The Fate of Marketplaces in Kazakhstan,” Problems of Post-Communism 55, No. 6 (November/December 2008):42-53.

The article focuses on the bazaars or marketplaces in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Three arguments concerning their fate relate to the modernization theory and the city's plans for commercial and cultural development, path-dependent logic suggesting that bazaars are an entrenched trading institution, and government intervention at bazaars in the interest of economic elites. In short, bazaars thrive and close based more on the interests of powerful political and economic elites than the activities of vendors and buyers. Topics include the: growth of bazaars as a post-Soviet economic system; social dynamics among the bazaars' traders, owners, and political elite; sanitary conditions and lack of rent regulations at the markets; city's attempts to modernize, regulate, and reconstruct bazaars via "passportization" into modern trading complexes; and official and unofficial stories about the closing of the Baian Aul bazaar.

Selected Book Chapters

2015    “The Pillars of Authoritarian Resilience in Central Asia,” in Matthew Burrows and Maria Stepan, eds., Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? (Atlantic Council): 13-26.

2012    "Education Reform in Energy- Exporting States: The Post- Soviet Experience in Comparative Perspective" in Brenda Shaffer and Taleh Ziyadov, eds., Beyond the Resource Curse, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012): 225-258.

2010    “External Sources and Consequences of Russia’s ‘Sovereign Democracy’” (with Michael McFaul, Stanford University) in Peter Burnell and Richard Youngs, eds., New Challenges to Democratization? (Routledge, 2010): 116-133.