My doctoral thesis is centered around the exploration of school as a site of identity construction and negotiation in the context of post-Soviet Tatarstan. It was guided by the overall question on how various actors attempt to inculcate particular identity representations and shape loyalties of the younger generation through educational discourses and practices. My ethnographic research in the small, multiethnic, but predominantly populated by Muslim Tatars, town in Tatarstan gives an insight into the dynamic between the official educational discourses, practices of teachers on the ground, family upbringing and religious institutions such as madrasa that shape the processes of identification among the younger generation.

© Dilyara Suleymanova

Though adhering to the adult-produced discourses on identity, in their everyday lives young people use identity categories rather strategically employing and adjusting them in accordance with particular circumstances and situations of life. Far from being a manipulative instrument in the hands of the state, school as my research attempted to show, encompasses various spaces where the agency of local actors unfolds. 

© Dilyara Suleymanova

In the context of the growing ethnic and religious tensions in Russia, provoked among others by the increasing state imposition of the Russian culture and Orthodox Christianity on population, the persistence and vitality of ethno-national identification among Tatars which links them to the wider Turkic-speaking and Muslim world is increasingly dependent on the efforts of local educators acting through school and madrasa. 

Thus, my research aims to contribute to the ongoing debate on the ways state attempts to transform individuals, how this happens on the ground and what outcomes this process can have – a debate which is relevant for many post-socialist societies, such as those in Central Asia. 


Dilyara Suleymanova, Dr. des., Assitent

Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Zurich


Photo 1: The illustrated map of Tatarstan on the walls of a school in Tatarstan. © Dilyara Suleymanova
Photo 2: Classroom corner in a village school in Tatarstan. © Dilyara Suleymanova
Photo 3: Traditional Tatar boots. © Dilyara Suleymanova
Photo 4: Learning about the symbols of Tatarstan during the meeting of the “Inheritors of
Tatarstan” school organization.  © Dilyara Suleymanova