Whose World? Discourses of Environmental Protection in Kazakhstan

Authors: Eva-Marie Dubuisson*, Nazarbayev University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Eurasia
Keywords: language and power, linguistic landscapes, discursive alignment, ancestral/sacred geography, environmental protection, environmental rights
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the authoritarian post-Soviet Central Asian state of Kazakhstan, environmental protest persists as a mode of activism and of national political participation. Rather than overt opposition, proponents of these movements often seek to work discursively within established national cultural and legal frameworks to justify and support safeguarding ecological resources, and in order to advocate for awareness and justice. These frameworks include those of the United Nations, geographic and biological conservation, post-colonial Kazakh nationalism, and that of sacred geography, which draws upon the legacy of cultural history and ancestral traditions in the region. I suggest that an increasing overlap in keywords and discourses function indexically to signal a shift in alignment (cf Kiesling 2009; Silverstein 2003) toward a ‘geography of protection,’ as well as a potential wave of social and political action. Such a move situates opponents – typically representatives of national, regional, and municipal governments – as operating ‘outside the law,’ or as being culturally ignorant or unworthy, in their zealous pursuit of natural resource extraction, their failure to prevent further environmental damage and to protect sovereign lands. However, both protesters and government alike are also continually pragmatically positioned as potential agents, those with the power or ability to effect real change. In my long-term linguistic anthropological research, I am paying attention to the power of language use not as a reflection of reality, but as philosopher of language John Searle (1985) famously noted, as a way to make reality match the ideal world.

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