Informal Vows

Marriage, Domestic Labour and Pastoral Production in Kazakhstan

in Inner Asia
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


In post-Soviet Kazakhstan, mobile pastoralism is now a task managed not by collective farms but by individual households: extended networks of kin band together to create flocks, and poor families trade labour for sustenance and a share of the flock’s live offspring. The success of these sheep-herding camps turns on their integrity as domestic units: the camp cannot function without the tasks customarily performed by women, yet relations of blood or marriage remain the only social institutions capable of mediating the exchange of domestic labour. This paper contrasts elaborate marriage ceremonies with more informal unions in which the primary desire is the presence of a woman’s labour. These marriages—unregistered, undertaken from necessity and celebrated by little more than a meal and perhaps a bottle of vodka for drinking toasts—index the conflicts and contradictions implicit in domestic labour being simultaneously fundamental to the household’s economic life and yet treated as a form of labour not to be honourably alienated from the family.

Informal Vows

Marriage, Domestic Labour and Pastoral Production in Kazakhstan

in Inner Asia



AimaghanbetovaZ. ‘Kogentup’, ‘Keusen’, ‘Toqymqaghar’, ‘Erulik’, ‘Zhienquryq’, ‘Ilu salar’ aqparattyq portal 2012 March 14

AlimaevI.I.BehnkeR.H. GalvinK.A.ReidR.S.BehnkeR.H.HobbsN. Thompson Ideology, land tenure and livestock mobility in Kazakhstan Fragmentation in Semi-arid and Arid Landscapes: Consequences for human and natural systems 2008 Dordrecht Springer 151 178

AlpysbaevaQ.B. Babalar sozi: ghuryptyq fol’klor [Words of the ancestors: customary folklore] 2012 Astana Foliant

AltynsarinI. AzhighaliS.E. Orynbor vedomctvosy Qazaqtardyng quda tusu zhange toi zhasau dacturlerning ocherki [Wedding and marriage traditions among the Kazakhs of Orenburg District] Qazaq khalqynyng dacturleri men adet-ghuryptary [Customs and traditions of the Kazakh people] 2006 [1870] Almaty Arys 175 183

AqadyqY. Ulttyq angshylyq dasturleri [National hunting customs] Zhardem 2010 December 10

ArgynbaevK.A. DragadzeT. The kinship system and customs associated with the ban on pronouncing the personal names of elder relatives among the Kazakhs Kinship and Marriage in the Soviet Union: Field studies 1984 Boston (MA) Routledge & Kegan Paul 4 59

AzhighaliS.E. Qazaq khalqynyng dacturleri men adet-ghuryptary [Customs and traditions of the Kazakh people] 2006 Almaty Arys

BarfieldT.J. The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China 221 bc to ad 1757 1989 Cambridge (MA) Blackwell

BohannanP. Some principles of exchange and investment among the Tiv American Anthropologist 1955 57 1 60 70

BourdieuP. The Logic of Practice 1990 Stanford (CA) Stanford University Press

CleuziouJ. ‘A second wife is not really a wife’: polygyny, gender relations and economic realities in Tajikistan Central Asian Survey 2016 35 1 76 90

DahlG. Women in pastoral production: some theoretical notes on roles and resources Ethnos 1987 52 1–2 246 279

DivaevA.A. AzhighaliS.E. Syr Darya Oblysy Kazakhtarynyng uileny rasimi turaly birneshe soz [Some words on the marriage customs of the Kazakhs of the Syr Darya Oblast’] Qazaq khalqynyng dacturleri men adet-ghuryptary [Customs and traditions of the Kazakh people] 2006 [1900] Almaty Arys 202 207

DulatovM.Y. Baqytsyz Zhamal [Unfortunate Zhamal] 2009 [1910] Almaty Zhazushy

Dyson-HudsonR.Dyson-HudsonN. Nomadic pastoralism Annual Review of Anthropology 1980 9 15 61

EdgarA.L. Emancipation of the Unveiled: Turkmen Women under Soviet Rule The Russian Review 2003 62 1 1924 1929 132 149

FratkinE.SmithK. Women’s changing economic roles with pastoral sedentarization: varying strategies in alternate Rendille communities Human Ecology 1995 23 4 433 454

GoodyJ. The Oriental The Ancient and The Primitive: Systems of marriage and the family in the pre-industrial societies of Eurasia 1990 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

IronsW. Political Stratification Among Pastoral Nomads 1979 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

IsmailbekovaA. Migration and patrilineal descent: the role of women in Kyrgyzstan Central Asian Survey 2014 33 3 375 389

JungbluthF.van VeenT.S. Kazakhstan’s Livestock Sector: Supporting its revival 2004 Washington World Bank

KalmakovN. AzhighaliS.E. Syr Darya Oblysynyng soltustyq uezderi Kazakhtarynyng keibir otbasylyq adet ghuryptary men salt dasturleri [Some traditions and customs of family life among the Kazakhs of the northern part of the Syr Daria district] Qazaq khalqynyng dacturleri men adet-ghuryptary [Customs and traditions of the Kazakh people] 2006 [1910] Almaty Arys 87 92

KampM. The New Woman in Uzbekistan: Islam modernity and unveiling under communism 2006 Seattle (WA) University of Washington Press

KandiyotiD. The politics of gender and the Soviet paradox: neither colonized, nor modern? Central Asian Survey 2007 26 4 601 623

KenzheakhmetulyS. Etnografiialyq etiudter [Ethnographic studies] Egemen Kazakhstan 2006 March 12

KervenC.ShanbaevK.AlimaevI.SmailovA.SmailovK. BehnkeR. Livestock mobility and degradation in Kazakhstan’s semi-arid rangelands The Socio-Economic Causes and Consequences of Desertification in Central Asia 2008 Dordrecht Springer 113 140 (nato Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security.)

KhalidA. The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia 1998 Berkeley/Los Angeles University of California Press

KikutaH. Remittances, rituals and reconsidering women’s norms in mahallas: emigrant labour and its social effects in Ferghana Valley Central Asian Survey 2016 35 1 91 104

KleinbachR.SalimjanovaL. Kyz ala kachuu and adat: non-consensual bride kidnapping and tradition in Kyrgyzstan Central Asian Survey 2007 26 2 217 233

KopytoffI. AppaduraiA. The cultural biography of things: commodification as process The Social Life of Things: Commodities in cultural perspective 1988 Cambridge Cambridge University Press 64 91

Lévi-StraussC. The Elementary Structures of Kinship 1969 London Eyre & Spottiswoode

L-iiF. AzhighaliS.E. Orynbor vedomstvosy Qazaqtardyng uilenu salttary [Wedding customs of the Orenburg Kazakhs] Qazaq khalqynyng dacturleri men adet-ghuryptary [Customs and traditions of the Kazakh people] 2006 [1862] Almaty Arys 145 174

MassellG.J. The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem women and revolutionary strategies in Soviet Central Asia 1919–1929 1974 Princeton (NJ) Princeton University Press

MaussM. The Gift: The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies 1990 London W.W. Norton

McGuireG. By coin or by kine? Barter and pastoral production in Kazakhstan Ethnos 2016 81 1 53 74

Naiman SubkhanberdinaU. Qazaq qyzdary [Kazakh young women] Dala ualaiatynyng gazeti 1994 [1900] Almaty Ghylym 715 719

NewyearT. ‘Our primitive customs’ and ‘Lord Kalym’: the evolving Buryat discourse on bride price, 1880–1930 Inner Asia 2009 11 1 5 22

NorthropD. Veiled Empire: Gender & power in Stalinist Central Asia 2004 Ithaca (NY) Cornell University Press

NurpeisovA.-J. Qan men ter [Blood and sweat] 1973 Almaty Zhazushy

NysanbaevA. Sauyn beru Kazakhstan Ulttyq Entsiklopediia [National Encyclopedia of Kazakhstan] 1998 Almaty Atamura

ParryJ.BlochM. ParryJ.BlochM. Introduction: money and the morality of exchange Money and the Morality of Exchange 1989 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

PianciolaN. Famine in the steppe: the collectivization of agriculture and the Kazakh herdsmen, 1928–1934 Cahiers du Monde russe 2004 45 1/2 137 191

ReevesM. Black work, green money: remittances, ritual, and domestic economies in southern Kyrgyzstan Slavic Review 2012 71 1 108 134

RiesN. WeisserS.O. The burden of mythic identity: Russian women at odds with themselves Feminist Nightmares: Women at odds: feminism and the problems of sisterhood 1994 New York (NY) New York University Press

RobinsonS.Milner-GullandE.J. Political change and factors limiting numbers of wild and domestic ungulates in Kazakhstan Human Ecology 2003 31 1 87 110

ShahraniM.N.M. The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan: Adaptation to closed frontiers and war 2002 Seattle (WA) University of Washington Press

SneathD. The Headless State: Aristocratic orders kinship society and misrepresentations of nomadic Inner Asia 2007 New York (NY) Columbia University Press

ToleubayevK.JansenK.van HuisA. Knowledge and agrarian de-collectivisation in Kazakhstan Journal of Peasant Studies 2010 37 2 353 377

UyamaT. TadayukiH. A strategic alliance between Kazakh intellectuals and Russian administrators: imagined communities in Dala Walayatïnïng Gazetí (1888–1902) The Construction and Deconstruction of National Histories in Slavic Eurasia 2003 Sapporo Slavic Research Center 237 259

WernerC. Marriage, markets, and merchants: changes in wedding feasts and household consumption patterns in rural Kazakstan Culture & Agriculture 1997 19 1–2 6 13

WernerC. Jones LuongP. Women, marriage and the nation-state: the rise of nonconsensual bride kidnapping in post-Soviet Kazakhstan The Transformation of Central Asia: States and societies from Soviet rule to independence 2004 Ithaca (NY) Cornell University Press 59 92

WernerC. Bride abduction in post-Soviet Central Asia: marking a shift towards patriarchy through local discourses of shame and tradition Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2009 15 2 314 331


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 45 45 3
Full Text Views 90 90 61
PDF Downloads 4 4 2
EPUB Downloads 3 3 0