Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, there has been remarkable enthusiasm for theorising how transitional processes have unfolded in post-socialist cities. In seeking to extend literature that uses the post-socialist condition as a tool for theory building, we draw attention to the ongoing processes of institutional change in post-socialist cities. In doing so, we reject a ‘top-down’ perspective and examine how these institutional transitions are shaped through processes of ‘domestication’, negotiation and contestation between different interest groups in the city. We develop our argument, by drawing attention to the local political debates surrounding the propiska in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The propiska developed throughout the Soviet Union to control internal migration and is still used today in a less restrictive form. By discussing our case study, we hope to foster attention towards the ongoing contested processes of institu- tional transition in post-socialist cities.