“Oil Is Our Wet Nurse”: Oil Production and Munayshilar (Oil Workers) in Soviet Kazakhstan
The oil industry came to the northeastern coast of the Caspian Sea, which forms Kazakhstan’s western frontier, in the early twentieth century. This essay explores how the Soviet oil industry established its presence in this region through a study of the munayshilar (oil workers), a new social class that was formed within the local herding communities. The munayshilar produced particular subjectivities in which oil, community, and tradition were intricately interwoven to stand for a way of life. Their engagement with the Soviet industry helped local communities assert control over their social environment in the presence of a powerful Soviet state, and led to the discovery of one of the largest oil fields in the world: Tengiz.