Imagining the desirable homeland: Nation-related belonging and social media use of young Kazakhstani Russians

Faculty/Professorship: University of Bamberg  ; Fakultät Sozial- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften: Abschlussarbeiten 
Author(s): Zhir-Lebed, Marina
Publisher Information: Bamberg : Otto-Friedrich-Universität
Year of publication: 2021
Pages: ix, 364 ; Illustrationen
Supervisor(s): Kneidinger-Müller,Bernadette; Grotzky, Johannes ; Kern, Thomas
Language(s): English
Dissertation, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, 2021
DOI: 10.20378/irb-51901
Licence: Creative Commons - CC BY - Attribution 4.0 International 
URN: urn:nbn:de:bvb:473-irb-519010
Recent events, such as the Ukrainian crisis, political protests in Belarus, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’s escalation, have clearly demonstrated that the so-called ‘national question’ has remained an acute issue in the post-Soviet space. Being surrounded by Russia’s neo-imperial calls, but also by the dominating titular culture in the country of their current residence, ethnic Russians, and their national belonging arouse the interest of academia.

Simultaneously, the tremendous expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs), as well as the popularity of social media in the ex-Soviet republics, opens new opportunities for the conception of a national image, especially for young people. Hence, the studying of ethnic and civic belonging in the post-Soviet context requires an additional technological viewpoint.

While Cyberspace in Kazakhstan remains state-controlled, Russia employs social media to unite its compatriots around the Russian national idea. However, the Internet may also support alternative identity constructions, grassroots movements, and the search for new national belongingness among ethnic minorities. How do young Kazakhstani Russians define their national belonging in the light of their social media usage? Which homeland do they imagine, and which role does Instagram play in this process?

To answer these questions, I conducted explorative research, which was based upon a qualitative content analysis of 22 semi-structured interviews with young Kazakhstani Russians and a quantitative content analysis of local Instagram accounts. Interviewing ethnic Russians from big Kazakhstani cities demonstrated that these young people avoid formal national categories and creatively combine their multiple nation-related identities and belongings. Although social media content from Russia is present in their social media feeds, Ka-zakhstani Russians did not express any particular attachment to their historical “homeland.” Instead, they defined themselves as Kazakhstanis and advocated for ethnocultural pluralism and innovation inside and beyond Kazakhstan’s national borders. Their openness towards global cooperation is also reflected in their use of social media.

At the same time, a close connection to a local space was widely relevant among Kazakhstani Russians. Posting Instagram stories from their everyday life, communicating with local friends, and consuming local news and event announcements, immersed young Kazakhstani Russians into the local city-related environment. Among the whole geographical and thematic content variety, following one or another urban account was an essential part of Kazakh-stani Russians’ social media use.

As the Instagram analysis proved, textual and visual content on city-related accounts has blurred the boundaries between different discursive paradigms of national identity existing in Kazakhstan and presented the country in a positive light. In addition to other usage patterns, this provides an opportunity for these young people to construct a particular image of Kazakhstan, which helps them to find their social identity gratification and maintain positive self-esteem. As a result, their sense of belonging to Kazakhstan grows, allowing them to manage their multiple nation-related memberships while creating new categories beyond any formal definitions.
GND Keywords: Kasachstan; Russen; Heranwachsender; Ethnische Identität; Politische Identität; Instagram
Keywords: national identity, social media, Kazakhstan, Russian World, ethnic Russians, Instagram, ethnic minorities, ethno-national belonging, belongingness, content analysis, qualitative interviews, young people
DDC Classification: 320 Political Science  
RVK Classification: MG 84070   
Type: Doctoralthesis
Release Date: 7. December 2021

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