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ISEK - Institut für Sozialanthropologie und Empirische Kulturwissenschaft Ethnologie

The Edible Monotown: Gardening, Foraging and Human-Environment Relations in (Post)Industrial Kazakhstan

Tabea Rohner


Monotowns, single-industry towns in the former Soviet space, have become epitomes of the modernist project of achieving socio-technological progress through industrialisation, urbanisation and careful planning – and its failure. Once flagships of socialist modernity, these settlements have become known to scholars and an international public as problematic vestiges of the past, characterised by crumbling infrastructures, socio-economic precarity and environmental pollution. Using Tekeli, a small, former mining town in Southeast Kazakhstan as a case study, my doctoral thesis critically engages with prevalent narratives about single-industrial settlements that focus on decline and failure. I bring to attention the plurality of life-sustaining practices and forms of sociality already established, particularly those involving relationships with the biotic urban environment. I argue that residents’ affective attachment to and ability to use natural elements of the town as well as the enjoyable sociality that they create in mundane everyday practices related to urban gardening and foraging contribute to the town’s durability and ability to regenerate – against the odds. With this argument, the thesis contributes to discussions in the social sciences and environmental humanities concerned with the future liveability and sustainability of human-disturbed places grappling with the legacies of past and present industrial activity.