A week long Joint Central Asia/South Caucasus Projects Summer School was held at Nazarbayev University (NU) in Astana, Kazakhstan, in September 4-9, 2017. The aim of the summer school was to join forces, facilitate exchange, and sharpen the analytical tools among several projects funded through the Volkswagen Foundation’s Central Asia/South Caucasus programme. The four projects – Fluid mobilities for cities in transformation; The Social life of a River, Informal markets and Trade, Translocal goods – are particularly close with regard to their approaches and methods. They specifically focus on the bottom-up emergence of new orders from an ethnographically informed perspective, and share questions on how environments and geographies are shaped by and in turn shape societies in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. The summer school organising team consisted of representatives of the participating projects, Susanne Fehlings from Frankfurt University, Jeanne Féaux de la Croix from Tübingen University, Alima Bissenova from Nazarbajev University, Wladimir Sgibnev and Lela Rekhviashvili from Leibniz Institute of Regional Geography.

Due to friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the summer school, it was possible to stay engaged in and navigate a dynamic and intensive schedule comprised of not so conventional academic exchange formats.  On the first day all the participants – MA and PhD Student, student assistants, post-docs, Workshop leaders and keynote speakers, professors and organisers – faced the challenge of introducing themselves in 90 seconds. Afterwards for 6 days the group enjoyed diversity of events: theory crash courses, keynote speeches, GIS mapping workshop, writing skills workshop, thematic clubs, philosophical walks, excursions and Astana Expo 2017 discussion panel.

We want to thank all the project members of four participating projects as well as external participants for their extensive input and engaged participation. We want to thank Keynote speakers, John Schoeberlein, Svetlana Jacquesson and Florian Mühlfried and GIS workshop leader Matthias Plennert.  We want to say particular thanks to Alima Bissenova our host at Nazarbajev University, and student assistants, Aigerim Nurmakhanova and Indira Makhazan for their countless efforts. Finally, big thanks to Darina Sadvakassova and Saltanat Boteu for sharing their impressions about the summer school, which you can see below.

Preparation of Informal Markets project presentation (picture: Joseph Salukvadze)

“A week spent at Volkswagen Foundation Joint Summer School will always evoke only pleasant memories. When I was asked to provide a short reflection on my experience, I was very excited at the prospect to finally write down all of my thoughts that so often arose in my mind during the month that passed since the last day of the summer school.

Coming outside of the research projects funded by the VW Foundation, it was in a sense a pleasant surprise to find the variety of research projects devoted to the study of Central Asia and the Caucasus. I am very grateful for the chance to have met such wonderful scholars who are genuinely interested in their research topics and kindly shared their knowledge, ideas, and professional experiences. The structure of the summer school itself only fostered this close cooperation among the participants in various forms be it public lectures, discussions in thematic clubs, personal conversations during philosophical walks or a tour around Astana while doing the GIS mapping exercise.

Although all of the participants came from different countries, backgrounds, and academic fields, there still were a lot of common topics for discussion (on theoretical and practical issues) that might have created a basis for future cooperation. In my opinion, these kinds of events are necessary not only for fostering collaboration and providing feedback, but also as a source of immense inspiration and motivation due to the special atmosphere that, in our case, prevailed throughout the whole summer school. I am once again grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this experience. “

-Darina Sadvakassova, 2017


Darkhan Medeuov discussing public spaces in southern Astana (picture: Joseph Salukvadze)

“As an external participant and being a novice scholar, I really enjoyed participating in the Summer School. Firstly, I believe that the way the school was organized diversified the experience and helped me to be concentrated and engaged in the process.

The requirement for every participant to introduce oneself and one’s research in the beginning of the school and to actively participate helped me to overcome my personal barriers in communication and get to know people and their views more. Similarly, sharing experience of writing a piece of academic work and various discussions helped to recognize human aspect in academia giving more courage to be involved in it. Except for discussions, I enjoyed learning GIS software and learning the new way of analyzing and organizing data. Excursions including the walk to the EXPO sight were incredible experiences as well. Although I am local in Astana, I really enjoyed having the excursion in certain Astana sights that I have never seen or walking in familiar places and seeing them through anthropology and sociology perspectives.

Secondly, I’m really grateful to the participants for creating particular atmosphere during Summer School. Although I was a newcomer, during general discussions and in groups, I felt welcomed to talk and to exchange ideas. I was not simply introduced to academic discussions but also made own small contribution to it. No less importantly, I met many wonderful experts in various themes and made friends across different countries and cultures.”

-Saltanat Boteu, 2017


Dinner with all participants (picture: Joseph Salukvadze)


Marshrutka-project presentation (picture: Joseph Salukvadze)


Darkhan Medeuov guiding the school participants through old/Soviet Technopark in northern Astana (picture: Joseph Salukvadze)

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