2013 Fellows | July 29, 2013

SSRC Dissertation Development Fellow Kimberley Powers

The Power of State Documents: Bureaucracy and the Transformation of Family and Gender Relations in 19th Century Kazakhstan

Discipline: Anthropology and History

University at Time of Fellowship: University of Michigan


My dissertation traces the connection between the development of bureaucratic documentary practices and state involvement in family affairs and gender relations in the Inner Kazakh Horde, an administrative division of the Russian empire situated between the Volga and Ural rivers. Based on a close reading of little-studied archival sources from Russia and Kazakhstan, I argue that the importance of written documents over oral agreements in a predominately pre-literate society was one of the main ways that Kazakhs experienced the modernizing imperial state in the mid-nineteenth century. Bureaucratic documentary practices transformed family relations into civil affairs and provided Kazakhs the opportunity to resolve family disputes with the empire’s civil authorities. However, this novel path did not lead to an unequivocal revolution in Kazakh family relations; in fact, Kazakh men and women could exploit the weaknesses of the modern bureaucratic system to preserve many of the patriarchal practices that Russian administrators had attempted to alter.


Kimberly Ann Powers is a PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan. She has spent more than 18 months conducting dissertation research in central and regional archives in Russia and Kazakhstan. Her broader research interests include modern Central Asian and Russian history, gender and sexuality, and the anthropology of the state.

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