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Presented By: Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

CREES Noon Lecture. Does Culture Matter? Complexity, Creativity, and Social Change in the Kyrgyz Republic

Noor O’Neill Borbieva, Professor of Anthropology, Purdue University Fort Wayne

Noor O’Neill Borbieva Noor O’Neill Borbieva
Noor O’Neill Borbieva
Although culture is one of American anthropology’s signature analytical concepts, interest in the culture concept has waned in recent decades. In this talk, Professor Borbieva will discuss this phenomenon and its impact on the development projects she observed in Central Asia. Drawing on four years she worked in Kyrgyzstan as a development professional and ethnographer, she argues that the lack of cultural anthropologists’ influence on the topic of culture has, at least in the development sector, empowered simplistic and ethnocentric (and familiar) discourses about diversity and social change. To effectively counteract these discourses, however, cultural anthropologists must update their understanding of culture. This can be done by incorporating insights from the latest research in biological anthropology and systems theory. If today’s popular usage of culture justifies one-size-fits-all visions of human well-being, a reinvigorated understanding of culture will be able to inform more constructive development interventions in Central Asia and beyond.

Noor O’Neill Borbieva is professor of anthropology at Purdue University Fort Wayne. Her research on gender, religious change, and the development sector in the former Soviet Union has been published in numerous journals, including Slavic Review, Central Asian Survey, and Anthropological Quarterly. Her book, Visions of Development in Central Asia: Revitalizing the Culture Concept, was published by Lexington Books in 2019.

This is an in-person event for U-M students, faculty, and staff only. You may participate remotely by registering at:

If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact us at Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange.

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