Creative ecosystems in Post-Soviet cities
: Mapping the creative development of Kazakhstan’s new (Astana) and old (Almaty) capital city

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In December 1997, Kazakhstan officially announced that the city of Akmola (later Astana, now Nur-Sultan) would be replacing Almaty as its capital city. This initiative to transfer the capital from the vibrant city of Almaty to the then small town of Astana created a shock in both urban systems, in turn laying an exceptional setting for comparative research on their creative development. Treating the capital city status as a variable, this paper monitors the adaptive processes that have taken place in the old and new capitals’ creative ecosystems in the last 20 years. Highlighting the complex nature of these changes and developments, this thesis adopts a complexity theory (CT) analytical framework and explores the concept of the creative ecosystem as an alternative to the creative economy. This approach places particular attention on the context and conceptualises urban creative development as driven by the complex interdependence between four overlapping domains: policy, place, organisations and people. This research comprises a multiple case study, where each case is represented by one city – Almaty and Astana, the former and current capital, respectively. For each case, the complex interdependence between four units of analysis – policy, people, place, organisations – is explored. A mixed methods research design is adopted to effectively address each unit. Data for this research was gathered via extensive desk and archival research and 49 semi-structured interviews with creative professionals and policymakers in Almaty and Astana. This thesis explores how the creative ecosystems of Almaty and Astana have evolved in line with the evolutionary adaptive cycle model (Holling, 2001). This model is used to structure the analytical chapters of the thesis as well as to identify key CT concepts – namely, path dependence, resilience, self-organisation and emergence – that help explain the evolutionary dynamics of Almaty and Astana’s creative ecosystems around the change of capital city. The thesis concludes by arguing for incorporating CT into the study of creative industries and their development. Finally, this thesis hopes to contribute to the empirical visibility of post-Soviet and (more importantly) Central Asian cities within creative industries research.
Date of Award1 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRoberta Comunian (Supervisor) & Hye-Kyung Lee (Supervisor)

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