Spring Speaker Series: Eurasian Environments, with Dr. William Wheeler

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Join us on April 26, 2022 at 11 am PT for the virtual Spring Speaker Series, featuring Dr. William Wheeler of the University of Manchester.

Title: “From Soviet Sturgeon to Post-Soviet Pike-Perch: A Century of Ecological Change in Kazakhstan’s Aral Sea Region, Told through the History of the Fisheries”

Abstract: The Aral Sea is globally famous for its disastrous regression over the second half of the 20th century – the result of Soviet irrigation practices in Central Asia – and for its recent partial restoration. Yet, despite the sea’s global notoriety, little research has been conducted into the lives of the people living around the sea. In this paper, I draw on my ethnographic and archival research in the Aral Sea region of Kazakhstan to explore how livelihoods have been made and remade amidst entangled histories of ecological and political-economic change. I focus on four species of fish that have, at different moments, played key roles in shaping these histories: two of them – sturgeon and pike-perch – native; two of them – mackerel and flounder – alien to the Aral. Showing how the fluctuations of the Aral Sea fisheries do not map directly onto the fluctuating sea-levels, I tease out some of the complexities of local meanings of environmental change.

Bio: Dr William Wheeler is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Social Anthropology, University of Manchester. He completed his PhD at Goldsmiths College, University of London. His ethnographic fieldwork in the Aral Sea region of Kazakhstan explored the intersections between large-scale environmental change and Soviet and post-Soviet political economy. He is the author of Environment and post-Soviet transformation in Kazakhstan’s Aral Sea region: Sea changes (UCL Press, 2021).

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