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Accepted Paper:

Soft Stances at the 2017 World Expo in Astana  
Meghanne Barker (University College London Institute of Education)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines shifting evaluations of the 2017 World Expo in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital. While the event yielded smaller numbers and came at a higher price to locals than planned, it nonetheless created unique opportunities for discussions of international politics.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, Kazakhstan has gained recognition for efforts defined as "soft power," both in international affairs and in domestic policies. In 2017, it hosted the World Student Games, Syrian Peace Talks, and began a two-year stint on the United Nations Security Council. The World Expo of 2017, with its theme "Future Energy," promised to bring people from all over the world to the nation's young capital. However, the event became embroiled in financial controversies, and it became clear that the number of visitors would be far lower - and more local - than originally projected. Local perceptions of the event's significance changed. Citizens began to doubt that the government money put into the Expo would result in investments that would improve their lives.

A focus on the massive nature of spectacle can distract us from the smaller-scale interactions that can result from such events. This paper examines unexpected conversations that arise through events of soft power. Meetings between Russian filmmakers, American students, and Kazakhstani artists highlighted and questioned stances and assumptions about their own nations, while the Expo invited interlocutors to take a stance in relation to it (DuBois 2007). As anthropologists, we have the opportunity to examine not only whether such events succeeded in fulfilling the promises their planners set forth, but we can moreover consider unexpected points of conversation and their potential for redefining political stances.

Panel P134
What is soft about soft power? Critical engagements with an emerging form of statecraft
  Session 1 Friday 17 August, 2018, -