Poets of the People: Learning to Make Culture in Kazakhstan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter presents the specific performance tradition of aitys (oral improvisational poetry) as it is realized in Kazakhstan today. Together with other narrative and musical cultural forms, aitys was nationalized as Kazakh culture in the socialist republican model of the Soviet system, and has transitioned to become a major symbol of ethnicized identity and heritage, promoted by a nationalist state. However, such promotion proves somewhat superficial – as the legacy of Russian cultural and linguistic hegemony continues to compete with efforts to valorize a more specifically Kazakh identity. Despite the rhetoric of Kazakh nation-branding, there are many institutional and ideological obstacles to the promotion of cultural forms which may now be considered ‘folkloric’ or non-contemporary. Centering on the perspectives of aitys teachers and poets, as well as rural villagers, regional offices of cultural affairs, and elite patrons alike, this chapter outlines the practical efforts and challenges facing the broad community of people in Kazakhstan who actively work to maintain aitys poetry (and by extension, Kazakh language) as a living tradition, rather than a cultural legacy of the past.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCreating Culture in (Post) Socialist Central Asia
EditorsAnanda Breed, Eva-Marie Dubuisson, Ali Igmen
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Aitys poetry
  • oral tradition
  • Kazakh language
  • language ideology
  • post colonialism
  • nation-building
  • culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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