Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John O’Loughlin

Second Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Third Advisor

Najeeb Jan


This dissertation explores how various actors in Kazakhstan have constituted the state’s sovereign authority since gaining independence in 1991, and it contributes to a broad range of literatures, from political and urban geography, to post-Soviet and Central Asian regional studies. Considering both elite and popular actors, I stress the positive effects of power (rather than solely seeing it as “dominating” or “coercive”) to explain the genuine popularity of the “developmental regime” that has evolved under President Nazarbayev’s leadership. Using a case-oriented approach that focuses on the new capital city, Astana, the project employs mixed qualitative and quantitative methods, including data from a country-wide survey, interviews, participant observation, focus groups, and textual analysis. These tools are used to examine a set of interlocking political economic and territorial practices, as well as the geopolitical imaginaries on which they depend. I argue that the urban development project in Astana has been vital to the paternalist state-building project, which has conditioned new state-society relations since independence. Theoretically, this dissertation elaborates a Foucauldian “practice-based” approach, which attends to material and rhetorical practices, technologies of government, and geopolitical imaginaries in establishing three key structural effects, or “transactional realities” in independent Kazakhstan: the “state,” “territory,” and “society.” Thus, the main question I answer is: Since 1991, what forces and power relations, spatial imaginaries, practices of government and representation, and which actors are involved in creating and sustaining the transactional realities of Kazakhstan as a coherent “state,” governing a demarcated “society” and “territory”?