Opening new doors : English Language Learning and entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan's capital

Foster, Hannah Lofton
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This dissertation is an ethnographic study of English Language Learning conducted in private educational centers located in Astana, Kazakhstan over the course of 19 months of fieldwork. Though English is not a language that most people in Kazakhstan speak daily, more students than ever are enrolling in English language lessons and view English as the deciding factor in gaining new educational and employment opportunities. However, these opportunities alone cannot explain the growth of English. Many students find that English does not live up to its potential, yet they continue to learn it. I argue instead that the growth of English in Astana coincides with the consolidation of the middle class and is indicative of broader cultural and ideological shifts taking place in contemporary Kazakhstan. More specifically, I argue that English now offers the capacity for enacting a new entrepreneurial subjectivity which marks a departure from the ways that English was once exclusively part of elite practices. I explore this shift and its consequences by examining three experiences of learning English. First, analyzing the enregisterment of English as elite, I identify how learning English became part of a broader set of elite practices. Next, I analyze language learning testimonials from successful English students to argue that such narratives are a key means through which students take up this new entrepreneurial subjectivity by recruiting neoliberal ideologies of self-development for their language learning endeavors. Finally, I return to the question of why students who are frustrated in their language learning endeavors continue to learn English. Analyzing the discourse of “no practice” that students often employ to understand their unsuccessful efforts, I argue that the ideologies students encounter in the classroom and which underpin the ways that elite and entrepreneurial subjectivities are enacted through English also hold success out of reach for most English students in Kazakhstan. I examine each of these experiences in turn to trace this shift in subjectivities and to locate educational centers as the key spaces in which these practices are developed and ideologies are circulated.