RETHINKING SPECTACULAR CITIES: Beyond authoritarianism and mastermind schemes

Mateusz Laszczkowski, Natalie Koch

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter

1 Scopus citations


This chapter examines the social and political complexities of spectacular city-building in Central Asia. Rather than fixating on elite ‘mastermind’ schemes, however, we emphasise the theoretical and empirical value of a ‘bottom-up’ view of on grand urban development projects in the region. Drawing from our ethnographic research in Astana (recently renamed Nur-Sultan), we argue that the city’s spectacular development is best understood as a complex socio-material process involving multiple heterogeneous agendas and aspirations of diversely situated actors. Spectacular cities are ‘technologies of government, ' which work not as standalone showpieces but through specific relations to their particular social, geographic and historic contexts. While political elites may be able to more effectively use these technologies, ordinary people also navigate the opportunities of urban development schemes and make use of them as best they can. We thus show how Astana residents’ individual practices and imaginings of self, place, time, sociality and politics have developed in creative relation to elite visions of the city around a particular notion of the national future within a global context. A grounded approach to ‘spectacular cities, ' we argue, raises important questions about the boundaries between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘democratic’ regimes in Central Asia and more globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Contemporary Central Asia
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780429609114
ISBN (Print)9780367178406
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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