Immediately after the declaration of independence of Kazakstan in 1991, all ethnic Kazaks who lived in the diasporas were invited to ‘come back to their homeland’. Officially, this invitation was meant to compensate for unjust treatment during the Stalinist era though most of the persons concerned, or their respective ancestors, had left the territory of the contemporary state long before that time. In fact, so it seems, the repatriates were in the first place needed to raise the proportion of ethnic Kazaks in the republic. Furthermore, in particular those form Mongolia and China were seen as more traditional and expected to reactivate Kazak culture and language, which had come under heavy pressure of Russification during the Soviet period. So far, the results are ambiguous. Many of the migrants, labelled as repatriants (or oralman in Kazak) face severe difficulties in adapting to their new environment. At the same time, the ‘authentic Kazak tradition’ they are supposed to represent is not equally high on everyone’s agenda and mutual encounters gave rise to fierce debates on what proper Kazakness is supposed to mean. In fact, for many of the migrants transnational ties to their place of origin are still far more important.

The project deals with the repatriation of Kazaks from China, Uzbekistan and Mongolia in a comparative way. The aim is to look at migratory decisions, patterns of integration and the development of transnational ties. The rare situation of an official invitation for millions of people to migrate from different origins creates a kind of a laboratory situation, in which people’s decisions of staying or leaving shall be comparatively investigated by accounting for various parameters: macro-economic developments and national politics, the livelihood situation of individuals and households, their social networks, and the role of cultural models. Three aspects will be primarily addressed: a) the motives for people to migrate – or not -, b) the patterns of integration found among those who migrated and the impacts this has on society in Kazakstan, and c) the development of transnational ties with their place of origin (and the impacts these have again on migratory decision making and patterns of integration).

On a theoretical level the project combines and complements prevailing approaches in research on migration like push & pull models, world system theory, and transnationalism with concepts deriving from new institutionalism and cognitive anthropology. Particular attention will be given to explanatory models borrowed from bounded rationality theory. On the one hand, migration is seen as fundamentally a decision-making process shaped by rather limited information. We assume that actors are on principle cautious and hesitant to leave their known institutional framework as long as circumstances do not fall below a certain minimal standard. On the other hand, a lack of information can lead to the opposite, especially when imitation effects, i.e. if many opt for migration, come into play.

Peter Finke, Prof. Dr., Head of Department

Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Zurich

Tabea Buri, M.A., PhD candidate

Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Zurich