First-year Thesis Proposal Presentations



This Friday, 22nd April, First-year students on the MA in Eurasian Studies will be presenting their thesis proposals. These are intended to outline their research questions and the proposed structure of their thesis, and to help them plan their summer fieldwork. They will be hoping for questions and constructive feedback from the audience. All welcome!

Friday 22nd April Room 8.321 2pm – 5pm

2.00 – 2.30pm Gulnar Akanova: Language Choice and Language Ideology: Youth of Urban and Rural Backgrounds in Kazakhstan

The issue of the status and use of the Kazakh and Russian languages has been a topic of disputes and discussions on both public and private levels since Kazakhstan obtained its independence. During the years when Kazakhstan was a part of the Soviet Union the Kazakhstani population learned Russian and it obtained an important place in the everyday lives of the people, being the language of interethnic communication and a lingua franca for the population. However the use of languages was uneven across Kazakhstan, with Russian being the main language of communication in urban areas (especially in the northern part) of the country whereas rural residents used Kazakh. Now with the state policy on the empowerment of Kazakh and the flow of rural-urban migration the sociolinguistic setting is changing. Thus how do the contemporary youth of urban and rural backgrounds make their language choice in everyday life and what are their language ideologies?

2.30 – 3.00pm Meiirzhan Baitas: Kazakhstani Petty Traders: Coping Strategies in a Volatile Economy

This paper focuses on networking among small-scale traders as a strategy in establishing a clientele. During the economic boom Kazakhstani small scale traders were able to establish their own niche in the economy. Traders developed their trading networks that extended well beyond the borders of Kazakhstan. With deteriorating economic conditions, however, small-scale traders experienced precarious conditions due to successive rounds of tenge devaluation and oil price shocks producing attrition in their clientele. In order to cope with this challenge, petty traders rely on a variety of networks, mainly, commodity-oriented, family-oriented, and ethnic-group-oriented networks.

This paper addresses the question of how petty traders utilize their networks in maintaining and reorienting their client base. In addition, I focus on why some types of networks are more preferable or efficient in comparison to others, and I consider how and under what circumstances each network type is utilized in establishing a clientele.

In order to address these questions I rely on participant observation and semi-structured in-depth interviews with small-scale traders in Astana within the grounded theory framework. This is because the goal of the research is to build a theory on the basis of information embedded in interviews.In this respect, the research will not only provide a description of petty traders’ practices in establishing a client base, but rather seek substantive interpretations of why and when small-scale traders utilize various networks in uncertain economic conditions. Considering the World Bank’s forecast of low oil prices in the coming years, the importance of networks among petty traders is likely to become even more central as there are no formal mechanisms in aiding informal small scale traders.

3.00 – 3.30pm Saltanat Boteu: Why do young people volunteer in Kazakhstan: the role of social and human capital in motivation to volunteer

Volunteering has long history of development in Western culture. In recent decades this phenomenon has attracted many scholars’ attention and was studied from different perspectives. Scholars examined the effects of volunteering on the individual and community level and emphasized its positive and negative outcomes. While in post-Soviet Central Asian countries, volunteering is a relatively new phenomenon, thus it started to be studied recently by scholars in different disciplines. This paper will focus on the motivation to volunteer in the Kazakhstani context, and draw attention to the human and social capital of volunteers and its relation to their motivation to undertake voluntary action.

3.30 – 4.00pm Dmitriy Melnikov: Imagining Eurasia in post-Soviet Central Asian Russian-language Literature

While exploring how Russian literature has been developing outside Russia in the Central Asian countries since the collapse of the USSR, I will rely on the concept of the imaginary as represented and constructed in literature. Considering that this concept is important within orientalism and postcolonial studies, the project seeks to examine to what extent the postcolonial paradigm is applicable to contemporary Russian-language literature in Central Asia. The goal of the project is to analyze the specific imaginary that writers working in Russian in the region have developed, as well as their innovative literary styles and devices such as the combination of literature with other arts, the incorporation of Kazakh in the texts and so on. It is interesting to see how this imagination influences their identity. The concept of Eurasia and the Eurasian space is now very popular in the area, and literature can be an interesting perspective to analyze to what imaginary it refers. To reveal the epistemological potential of the literary works for the study of the imagination I will employ phenomenological methodology, for instance, to see how the sense and the imaginary framework of some spaces (such as the environments of Almaty and Astana, the national territories and Eurasia as a whole) are constructed in prose and poetry by Anuar Duisenbinov, Duisenbek Nakipov, Ilya Odegov, Timur Pulatov, Nikolay Veryovochkin and Timur Zulfikarov.

4.00 – 4.30pm Darina Sadvakassova: Branding Kazakhstan: The Relationship between State and Non-State Actors in Image Construction.

The following feasibility study focuses on the investigation of Kazakhstani nation branding. Nation branding is a relatively new field of practice and research, but it has deep historical roots in cultural diplomacy, and is intimately bound up with such concepts as public diplomacy, cultural relations and soft power. Moreover, it also relates to different academic fields, including marketing research, international relations and foreign policy, cultural studies and mass communications. Nation branding as a practice creates a favorable international image and increases a country’s competitiveness. A review of the scholarly literature shows the absence of analysis of Kazakhstani nation branding as a strategy, as well as raising the question of how non-state actors influence Kazakhstan’s international image. This research proposal outlines two possible approaches to the analysis of Kazakhstan’s nation branding and relationship between state and non-state actors in this process.

4.30 – 5.00pm Aliya Tazhibayeva: The Internationalization of higher Education in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan: What Is the Strategic Line?

I will begin by exploring the definition of the internationalization of higher education as commonly utilized at the global level, and illustrating the changes and reforms in higher education taken after 1991. Within this I will specify my research interest and focus, which is to examine these trends in Kazakhstan, setting them in the context of the wider Eurasian region. I will outline the main and minor research questions, the approach I will employ, the suggested participants, possible risks and means of minimising them, and methods of data collection and analysis (tools, software).

Seminar announcement: Irna Hofman on Chinese Farms in Tajikistan

We would like to invite all students, faculty and colleagues to a paper in the SHSS seminar series.

Irna Hofman (Leiden University, Institute of Asian Studies) will be presenting on Politics or profits along the “Silk Road”. What drives and thrives Chinese farms in Tajikistan?

The Seminar will be at 4pm on Monday 11th April 2016 in Room 8.307 at Nazarbayev University.


New geopolitical dynamics and the search for natural resources such as land accompany the rise of the BRICS countries in the global arena. In this paper I discuss the case of Chinese agricultural land investments in the Central Asian state of Tajikistan. Stemming from a Soviet past, Tajikistan seems to be on the way to becoming one of China’s satellite states. Over the last five years Chinese engagement in Tajikistan has become increasingly diversified. It now includes land and agriculture, which points to the multifaceted drivers behind China’s presence in the neighbouring Tajik republic. I thus use Tajikistan to explore the nature and drivers of Chinese land acquisitions in Central Asia, a region that has been regaining global attention since the past few years. This raises more widely applicable insights into the various, and I would argue, often competing factors driving China’s foreign land rush.


Irna Hofman is a Ph.D. researcher at Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) and affiliated to the ISS in the Hague through her supervisor Oane Visser. She holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences with a minor in Rural Development Sociology. Her current work and interests are focused on agrarian and social change, rural sociology and transition economies. She has conducted research in rural Uzbekistan and currently works on her Ph.D. research on post-Soviet agrarian change in Tajikistan. Chinese agricultural land investments and Chinese presence in Tajikistan and broader Central Asia are also part of her study, for which she recently organised a small conference on ‘Encounters after the Soviet collapse: Chinese presence in the former Soviet Union border zone’.

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