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Building the future: Construction, temporality, and politics in Astana

Mateusz Laszczkowski

Keywords: building, Kazakhstan, modernization, utopia

Abstract

This article focuses ethnographically on the built environment of the socalled “Left Bank” area in Astana, Kazakhstan. Previously merely a provincial administrative center, the city became the country’s capital in 1997; soon a new quarter of monumental, futuristic, and stylistically extravagant administrative, residential, and commercial buildings emerged. I argue that the construction effort produces complicity by mobilizing and channeling citizens’ agency. Against the background of recent history, it offers a sense of restored progress-directed collectivity within which individual citizens can seek to engage, pursuing more meaningful and materially satisfying lives. A selective vision of the city is propagandized widely, producing a hyperreal space that captures imaginations, set in opposition to more “ordinary” social space. The contrast between that vision and the lived realities of Astana causes disillusionment, but emic criticism of the political economy fails to transcend the logic of modernization narratives that the ideology of Astana’s construction rests upon.

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