Natalie Koch Portrait
Ph.D. 2012 • M.A. 2009
Human Geography

Areas of interest: Political Geography; Geopolitics; Eastern Europe; Central Asia
Faculty Advisor: John O'Loughlin


2009 - Nation-Building, Geopolitics, and the Andijon Uprising: Securitizing Discourses in Uzbekistan

2012 - The City and the Steppe: Territory, Technologies of Government, and Kazakhstan's New Capital

Research Interests

My dissertation is entitled "The city and the steppe: Territory, technologies of government, and Kazakhstan's new capital." Through a mixed-methods, critical regional studies approach, it explores Kazakhstan's shifting geopolitical imaginaries and practices since the state gained independence in 1991. The study is centered on the country’s spectacular new capital, Astana, which opens up broader political geographic questions. By examining new ways of organizing space "representationally," I take a practice-based approach to examine the political and symbolic economy of the city’s development, and its role in the elite nation-building and international prestige-building project. Through this case study, I show how independence-era elites have constituted the “state” as a coherent “thing” and actor, while simultaneously constituting two new objects of government: a passive (and pacified) "society" and a natural (and naturalized) “territory.” I argue that the paternalist regime that has evolved in Kazakhstan is not a mere continuation of Soviet-era paternalism. Rather, I show how the regime’s selective engagement with neoliberal market economy forces have worked to reconfigure and institutionalize new practices of government (of both the self and others) in the era of independence. Specifically, I highlight those practices surrounding the consumption and constitution of Astana’s built landscape, spectacle and sport, education, new practices of spatial/social exclusion, and nationalist and foreign policy discourses. The research project draws on a broad set of methods, including data from interviews, participant observation, focus groups, a country-wide survey, and textual analysis.

I have been conducting research in Kazakhstan since 2005, when I first visited for my undergraduate Geography honors thesis on environmental security discourses and the Aral Sea's desiccation (High Honors, BA 2006, Dartmouth College, Geography and Russian Area Studies). My master’s research was on the Andijon uprising in Uzbekistan (MA 2009, CU Boulder, Geography). I have also conducted research on forced migration in Eastern Europe from 2006-2007, while living and working in Prague and Sofia.