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Title: Protest mobilisation and democratisation in Kazakhstan (1992-2009)
Author: Niyazbekov, Nurseit
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis consists of two objectives which divide it into two parts. Thus, part one explores the cyclicity of protest mobilisation in post-Soviet Kazakhstan in the 1992–2009 period and part two investigates the relationship between protest mobilisation and democratisation in the 1990s, a decade marked by early progress in democratisation followed by an abrupt reversal to authoritarianism. Acknowledging the existence of numerous competing explanations of protest cyclicity, the first part of this study utilises four major social movement perspectives – relative deprivation (RD), resource mobilisation (RMT), political opportunity structures (POS) and collective action frames (CAF) – to explain variances in protest mobilisation in Kazakhstan over time and four issue areas. Adopting a small-N case study and process-tracing technique, the thesis’s first research question enquires into which of these four theoretical perspectives has the best fit when seeking to explain protest cyclicity over time. It is hypothesised that the ‘waxing and waning’ of protest activity can best be attributed to the difficulties surrounding the identification and construction of resonant CAFs. However, the study’s findings lead to a rejection of the first hypothesis by deemphasising the role of CAFs in predicting protest cyclicity, and instead support the theoretical predictions of the POS perspective, suggesting the prevalence of structural factors such as the regime’s capacity for repression and shifts in elite alignments. The second research question revolves around variations in protest mobilisation across four issue areas and explores the reasons why socioeconomic grievances mobilised more people to protest than environmental, political and interethnic ones. According to the second hypothesis, people more readily protest around socioeconomic rather than political and other types of grievances due to the lower costs of participation in socioeconomic protests. While the regime’s propensity for repressing political protests could explain the prevalence of socioeconomic protests in the 2000s, the POS perspective’s key explanatory variable failed to account for the prevalence of socioeconomic protests in the early 1990s, resulting in the rejection of the second hypothesis. The second part of the thesis attempts to answer the third research question: How does protest mobilisation account for the stalled transition to democracy in Kazakhstan in the 1990s? Based on the theoretical assumption that instances of extensive protest mobilisation foster democratic transitions, the study’s third research hypothesis posits that transition to democracy in Kazakhstan stalled in the mid-1990s due to the failure of social movement organisations to effectively mobilise the masses for various acts of protest. This assumption receives strong empirical support, suggesting that protest mobilisation is an important facilitative factor in the democratisation process. The thesis is the first to attempt to employ classical social movement theories in the context of post-communist Central Asian societies. Additionally, the study aims to contribute to the large pool of democratisation literature which, until recently (following the colour revolutions), seemed to underplay the role of popular protest mobilisation in advancing transitions to democracy. Finally, the research is based on the author’s primary elite-interview data and content analysis of five weekly independent newspapers.
Supervisor: Whitefield, Stephen Sponsor: Centre for Educational Programmes in Astana
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Political science ; Russia and Eurasia ; Social psychology ; Civil Rights ; Civil society ; Conflict ; Democratic government ; democratisation ; protest mobilisation ; Kazakhstan ; Central Asian politics ; social movements ; collective action ; post-Soviet politics