Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Reader in Politics explores how nations are built using cinema

Tuesday, 06 March 2018

Rico's Book

Dr. Rico Isaacs, Reader in Politics at Oxford Brookes University, has released a book detailing how nations can be built using cinema as a medium (18 Feb). The book, Film and Identity in Kazakhstan: Soviet and post-Soviet culture, uses cinema as an analytical lens to identify four different interpretations of Kazakh nationhood and identity. It also demonstrates how cinema has emerged as a site of dissent against the Kazakh regime.

Rico worked on the research for his book for over four years. During this time he engaged with dozens of directors and film critics. Additionally, he surveyed a large sample of films to assess how the notion of ‘Kazakh’-ness is represented. This research allowed him to develop four conceptualisations of Kazakh nationhood: the ethnic, civic, religious and socio-economic. Each concept has implications for the social fabric of the nation. For instance, Rico suggests that “pursuing the pure ‘ethnic’ notion would no doubt disenfranchise many ethnic groups that encompass Central Asia, such as ethnic Russians, Persian-speaking minorities and other Turkic groups.” 

However, Rico also  argues that “it may not always be clear cut: different people will interpret the narratives related to nationhood in these films in different ways and dependent on the context. If you trace the funding, a lot of anti-regime films are actually government funded, which may be their version of ‘letting off steam’ on their own terms”. 

Rico also makes an argument in his book that films have become ‘instrumentalised’, and that cinema and art more broadly, have emerged as a medium where people can voice their protest at the system. 

Whilst this research is invaluable to exploring identity in new Central Asian nations, it also has great importance in understanding how cinema  can help us shape our identity within our nations. 

The study was funded by grants from the British Council and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Rico’s next work will explore the relationship between urban environments and authoritarian resistance and control on Central Asia.

Film and Identity in Kazakhstan: Soviet and post-Soviet culture was released on 18 February 2018 by I.B.Tauris publishers.