Ethan Wilensky-Lanford

I am interested in Central Asia, development, secularism, and civil society. As a former journalist based in Kyrgyzstan, I have spent a cumulative total of more than three years since 2001 living, working, and researching in the region. I speak Russian, and am currently conducting fieldwork while furthering my language study.

My dissertation research examines how the goals and understandings of international development professionals working to promote civil society in Central Asia relate to the historical and cultural contexts of the local sites into which they intervene. Specifically, it focuses on the implementation of a grant designed to improve society and social capacity in Kyrgyzstan. My study of this grant-making community and their efforts offers a particularly timely look how development and society are related, given an ongoing re-articulation of how international development aid might be dispersed, prioritized, and spent in the Kyrgyz Republic. By closely following the daily activities of development professionals as they negotiate the local context, as well as aid recipients as they negotiate the international context, this research will produce insights into both the gaps and productive tensions between development discourses and practices that will be useful to scholars, development professionals, and policy makers alike. Careful ethnographic work among both communities will be crucial for understanding how development professionals' and their target populations’ imaginaries of civil society may blend, clash, and possibly transform one another.

Research Areas

Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia, political anthropology, Islam, post-socialist societies, transnational religious movements, ethnicity, anthropology of development.