Urban ‘utopias’: the Disney stigma and discourses of ‘false modernity’
This paper examines the political implications of the practice of framing mega urban development projects with the language of ‘utopia’ or ‘Disney’. Through a case study of Kazakhstan’s new capital, Astana, I argue that the stigmatizing language of ‘utopia’ is a highly political bordering practice, defining the ‘imaginary’ and the ‘real.’ Coupled with ethnographic data from fieldwork in Kazakhstan between 2009 and 2011, I perform a textual analysis of English and German language press coverage of Astana, and demonstrate how narratives of ‘false modernity’ and ‘utopia’ have become the dominant way of reading and writing about the city. Although often critical of the project as a sign of the President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s ‘megalomania,’ this coverage obscures more complex geographies of power and state–society relations in the independent state. Symptomatic of liberal (ie, top-down, one-dimensional) understandings of power, the hegemonic discourse simultaneously reinscribes the state’s ‘coherence’ and erases the lived realities and agencies of ordinary citizens, while obscuring the more complicated political–economic relations that condition and give rise to ‘spectacular’ urban development projects. Keywords: Kazakhstan, capital city, utopia, modernity, textual analysis
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