Simon Eslinger: Impressions from MA Thesis Fieldwork in Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan)
Simon Eslinger, 2nd year student of the master's programme 'Comparative Politics of Eurasia', tells about his experience of fieldwork and data collection in Kazakhstan for his MA thesis
This academic year, Simon Eslinger, a second-year MA student in the Programme “Comparative Politics of Eurasia”, has been awarded a grant from the Programme Academic Council to conduct fieldwork for his MA thesis in Kazakhstan. He told us about his experience in Nur-Sultan and the impact of this opportunity on his research process and results.
«Since my first year at the HSE St. Petersburg, I have been fascinated by research on clan politics in Kazakhstan and on the impact of traditions on politicization of the youth. My field trip to Nur-Sultan was a highly valuable experience, which not only enabled me to gather the data I needed for my MA thesis, but also allowed me to think through about the work of a researcher, and to adjust my methodology in the field.
The core of my fieldwork, in line with my research design, was focused on interviewing young citizens of Kazakhstan. I met with a number of young people (aged 18-30), with whom I conducted in-depth interviews. I am pursuing a qualitative work using the interpretivist approach, which focuses on people’s testimonies and experiences of society, by seeking to grasp the meaning of their opinions and actions. I met these youngsters through different channels, including through the application Couchsurfing, where I expressed my willingness to meet with young locals, and through personal acquaintances.
I split the interviews in two parts. The first one was dedicated to their relations with traditions and enabled me to gain their trust. The second part was mostly a conversation about their relation to politics in general and clan politics in particular. Comparing multiple interpretations of these themes has greatly informed my analysis.
Kazakhstan is a huge country, full of contrasts and regional discrepancies, its culture is rich and diverse. I decided to stay in the capital city Nur-Sultan - formerly Astana - as it is home for people from all around the country. This is also one of the cities where I could find the best experts to help me with my thesis. Thanks to my academic supervisor, I met with scholars from Nazarbayev University (NU) and interviewed them about my topic. These expert interviews have been very important for my work.
Scholars from the NU also invited me to attend a presentation of chapters from the book Nazarbayev Generation: Studies on Youth in Kazakhstan (Lexington, 2019, edited by Marlene Laruelle) organized in the framework of the lecture series ‘Culture and Society’ at the NU. I used this priceless opportunity to address questions relevant for my research to many prominent experts in this field.
This research experience was very stimulating and led me to think of new concepts for my thesis thanks to the scholars I met in the field. It also allowed me to go beyond the existing scholarly discussions by chatting with people from my generation, who were eager to help me understand their own life and perceptions of traditions and politics. This made me super motivated to work on my thesis and produce something worthy for my defence in June!»