A central question with which to begin is to what extent is it justifi ed to focus on the fi ve ex-Soviet republics – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, colloquially known as ‘the fi ve stans’ – that form what we have come to know as Central Asia? In common with many other geographic regions, there is no neat answer to the question of what constitutes Central Asia and discussion of the topic is of long standing. The geographic expanse selected may depend on any number of reasons. It may be partly a function of the author’s interests or specialization, their view on the region’s leitmotifs that work to make this region ‘discrete’, or, again, what identities actors (external or internal) choose to give to Central Asia, either in how they imagine it (spatially or temporally) or how they try to perform it, even institutionally. Here each of these reasons is examined.