Of nomads and khanates: heteronomy and interpolity order in 19th-century Central Asia

Filippo Costa Buranelli*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Scholars of International Relations (IR) and Global Historical Sociology alike have recently become more and more interested in Eurasian order(s). Yet, most recent works on Eurasian historical international relations approach the subject from a long durée perspective, mostly focusing on “big polities” from a “high altitude.” Central Asia, or “Turkestan,” and its constitutive polities such as the khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and Khoqand and the vast array of nomadic groups surrounding them are yet terra incognita in IR, specifically with respect to the pre-Tsarist period. By relying on both primary and secondary sources, this inductive research reveals how precolonial Central Asia was an interpolity order on its own, premised on heteronomy and based on the institutions of sovereignty between the khanates and suzerainty between khanates and nomads; territoriality; Sunni Islam; trade and slavery; diplomacy; and war and aq oyluk. This paper contributes to filling this gap, and to the broader literature on Eurasian historical orders, in three respects. First, it adds granularity, detail, and specificity to current IR knowledge on Eurasia by looking at smaller polities as opposed to empires, which as noted have been the main analytical focus so far. Second, the paper adopts an emic approach to uncover local practices, institutions, and norms of precolonial Central Asia, thus adding to the recent “Global IR” debate. Third, by focusing on a case where heteronomy was the rule, this paper adds a new case to the literature on the entrenchment and durability of heteronomy in historical IR and contributes to its theory-building.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Early online date27 Sept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Sept 2023


  • Historical sociology
  • International history
  • Order
  • English School
  • Heteronomy
  • Eurasia


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