Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Political Science, Comparitive Politics

Date of Defense

12-16-2014

Graduate Advisor

Joyce Marie Mushaben

Committee

Farida Jalalzai

Jean-Germain Gros

Denise DeGarmo

Abstract

This investigation focuses on two competing theories (historical institutionalism and social constructivism) and their explanatory value in regards to female political representation in Kazakhstan. Historical Institutionalism maintains that current institutional dynamics are constrained by past institutional formations, even when these past institutions are no longer relevant. Social Constructivism challenges this theory by upholding that institutions are culturally situated and a reflection of shared ideas rather than material forces as argued by historical institutionalism. Based on Hanna Pitkin’s (1967) four dimensions of representation (formal, descriptive, substantive, and symbolic), I examine how Kazakhstan’s Soviet past and its creation of a Kazakh ethnic-national identity resulted in the decline of female political representation in all four dimensions. Utilizing official documents, news reports, and interviews conducted with elite females and university students in Almaty, Kazakhstan, women are less represented now than they were under the Soviet regime. Although those interviewed felt they have more freedom under the current regime, realistically women not only have fewer formal mechanisms to guarantee representation, but also substantively, women’s issues have been subverted in order to promote a unified Kazakh identity. Where women were once of symbol of equality under the Soviet regime, in its place stands ethnic nationalism epitomized in the form of one Kazakh man, President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Comparing these results back to the two theoretical frameworks, historical institutionalism and social constructivism individually do not adequately provide an overall assessment on the current status of women in Kazakhstan. By integrating these two theories under one overarching lens, a more complete analysis on how the combination of both Kazakhstan’s desire to break from its institutional past and reassert dominance of a Kazakh national identity triggered the loss of female representation in Kazakhstan.

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