SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Rigi, J. (1999) Coping With the Chaos (Bardak): Chaos, Networking, Sexualised Strategies and Ethnic Tensions, in Almaty, Kazakhsatan. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
Download (14MB)


The aim of thesis is to describe and analyse the main elements of the post- Soviet chaos (bardak) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. My focus is the ways in which the dispossessed people understand and react to what they term 'chaos' and their own dispossession and the variety of coping strategies they have adopted to survive in the new, harsh economic and political environment. My account draws on 15 months 'multi-site' ethnographic fieldwork in Almaty from July 1995 to Oct 1996. What dispossessed describe as 'chaos' are the circumstances of their plunder: a situation which they think has been deliberately created by members of the former Soviet elite and a variety of Westerners. It is, I argue, a situation created and exploited by the Kazakhstan state official and others, locally known as 'the mafia' (mafiia) as part of their response to the collapse of the USSR, and the new liberal economic policies associated with the new style of 'global capitalism'. Their response also includes many forms of corruption, and a willingness to use violence against increasingly impoverished majority of the population. I particularly focus on networking and sex work as two important strategies through which the dispossessed cope with the poverty and social insecurity. One finding of considerable importance is that while network-based competition for resources has given a new surge to ethnic tensions in Kazakhstan, such tensions are counterbalanced among the dispossessed by their feeling of belonging to the same Soviet 'imagined community' (Sovetskii narod). Central to such feelings is a strong shared nostalgia for the Soviet era. This nostalgia signals a fear of, and constitute a form of protest against, some elements of post-Soviet change such as the implementation of market economy, widespread prostitution, the presence of foreigners, the emergence of new forms of class differentiation and the prevalence of consumerist culture and the monetisation of life worlds, particularly with respect to sexual relations. The dispossessed not only reject these changes but attribute them to corrupt 'alien' evil forces: alien persons, the alien consumerist culture and the 'wild capitalism' (diki kapitalism). An examination of the complex responses of dispossessed to these 'alien' forces is the theme which unites this dissertation. In particular I document the ways in which both the imagined Soviet community, and those of other imagined ethnic communities are gendered through discourses and practices related to sexuality and marriage. I also describe how the dispossessed, of whatever the ethnic or religious backgrounds, often feel themselves to have far more in common with each other, and with others of the dispossessed throughout the territory of the former USSR, than with their co-ethnics or co-religionists outside this territory.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:31

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item