Accepted Paper:

Exporting know-how: a British soap-opera in Kazakhstan  


Ruth Mandel (University College, London)

Paper short abstract:

Following the collapse of the USSR, UK foreign aid invested one million pounds in newly-independent Kazakhstan to produce a TV soap opera with the subtext of teaching postsocialist citizens about market economy and democracy. The paper explores the back-story of this novel ideological export.

Paper long abstract:

Following the collapse of the USSR and the independence of former Soviet republics, the British Know-How-Fund (a joint effort of the FCO and international development arm ODA) invested one million pounds producing a television TV soap opera with the subtext of teaching former Soviet, postsocialist Kazakhstanis about the market economy and democracy. Until the end of the Cold War, western international development aid was relegated to civil engineering projects, educational, agricultural and health care aid. The post-Soviet region offered novel opportunities, in a period of late-capitalism, for new sorts of aid and economic expansion into previously off-limits potential consumers and emerging markets. Multi-nationals along with international development agencies began their penetration with market and ideological infiltration. The UK and other western powers bombarded the region, exporting neo-liberal projects and propaganda, including the TV soap opera 'Crossroads' in Kazakhstan. British soap opera experts taught several hundred Kazakhstanis the techniques of soap opera production, along with methods of producing storylines with a message. This paper discusses the conflicts that emerged when clashing visions of British social realism were exported to a society steeped in a history of socialist realism, yet already penetrated by South American melodramatic teleserials. The paper juxtaposes stories of the Kazakhstani writers' and actors' resistance against the British trainers with first, instructions from Whitehall and second, creative manipulation of the producers in the context of heavy political censorship from Kazakhstan's authoritarian president and his cabinet of ministers who kept a close watch on the storylines of the series.

Panel P27
A world of goods and the wealth of nations: anthropologies of export