Accepted Paper:

Building the future: public construction projects in post-Soviet Kazakhstan and the European Union  


Mateusz Laszczkowski (University of Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

Comparing the construction of Kazakhstan’s new capital city and of high-speed railway in an Italian Alpine valley this paper explores how collaborations are established to support or resist large-scale construction. Comparison invites rethinking notions of ‘democratic’ and ‘non-democratic’ politics.

Paper long abstract:

This paper juxtaposes insights from my 2007-2012 doctoral research on the construction of Kazakhstan's new capital Astana and a new project exploring the controversies surrounding the building of high-speed railway (TAV) in Val di Susa in the Italian Alps (fieldwork starting March 2014). Post-Soviet Kazakhstan is a country commonly deemed authoritarian. In the 2000s, in alliance with transnational companies and investment funds, the government built a spectacular planned capital to manifest a vision of consolidated statehood and technologically advanced future. The Italian state, still haunted by the spectres of fascism and political violence between left-wing and right-wing groups, is nonetheless a leading member of the European Union—allegedly the solid ground of pluralism and democracy in today's world. The construction of the TAV is a part of a European-wide network of railway connections. However, over the last twenty years the project has triggered protests, first by the inhabitants of the Susa valley whose homes and livelihoods will be heavily affected by the TAV, and soon by a range of nation-wide social movements decrying environmental destruction, elite irreverence of local concerns, and corrupt linkages between the Italian government, the EU, big business, and the mafia. Comparing the two cases, I ask how the state is experienced through large construction projects in different social and political contexts and against different historical backdrops. Who are 'state' agents in these cases, who are their allies, and who are the discontents? The comparison also invokes questions about what we mean by 'democratic' or 'non-democratic' politics.

Panel P014
Building promises: how international, state and local actors collaborate on public construction projects in non-democratic environments