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oil industry

The History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies Department is pleased to invite you on

Tuesday 18 April 2017

from 1pm

room 8.105

to a research talk by Maurizio G. Totaro, visiting PhD student at NU/SHSS, on the topic:

“Producing Oil Regions in Kazakhstan: An Historical Overview”


Since independence, the story goes, oil and gas have shaped Kazakhstani political institutions and economic pattern, and conditioned the social expectations of the country’s population. Concomitantly, “petro-state”, “oil curse”, and “Dutch disease” have become the theoretical catch-words to identify what the country is, or is pathologically affected by. Often accompanied by sensationalist tones and normative intents, such theoretical paradigms tend to uncritically reduce the country to oil, and oil to money. Moreover, they rarely take time to explore the historical trajectories of the country’s oil producing regions, rather focusing on the central echelons of state power.

With this talk I would like to take a step back in time, and suggest another route to explore the multiple relations that have come to shape the Kazakhstani oil complex. Focusing on the oil producing regions of Atyrau and Mangystau, I will overview how oil has become, since the end of the 19th century, part of these regions’ socio-material, imaginative, and political landscapes, following a non-linear historical trajectory. Giving particular attention to the Soviet era, I will explore how the two regions became oil regions in popular imaginations and discourses, and through political interventions. The first part will concentrate on the oilfields around the Emba river from the late Imperial years to WWII, whilst the second part will summarize the geographical shift that occurred with the development of Mangystau’s oilfields in the 1960s; the differential incorporation of this region into the Soviet economy, and the role that the region had in exemplifying the heights  of late Soviet modernity and its contradictions. Finally, in the conclusions, I consider how Soviet legacies and contemporary conjunctures concurred in shaping the restructuring of the oil complex in the two regions, and beyond, during the 1990s.

The speaker:

Maurizio G. Totaro is Marie Curie PhD Fellow at the Department of Conflict and Development Studies, University of Ghent. He holds a BA from the University of Bologna and an MSc from SOAS, University of London. His current dissertation, provisionally titled “Viscous Matter: Oil, Territory, and Subjectivity in Mangystau, Kazakhstan”, centres on the imaginaries, practices, perceptions and experiences of oil extraction in the region. Mr Totaro is visiting PhD students at Nazarbayev University, SHSS.