Towards an Alternative Model of Heritage as Sustainable Development: Uyghur Meshrep in Kazakhstan

The project aims to harness ‘meshrep’ as a means to revitalise grass-roots expressive culture and indigenous language, strengthen community organisation, and create networks of micro-finance to support sustainable economic livelihoods.
Project status

This project focuses on meshrep: a system of community gatherings maintained by ethnic Uyghurs in southeast Kazakhstan. Meshrep involve music, dance, joking, readings, and an informal community court. They forge lasting community bonds, support the transmission of language and expressive culture, and provide a forum for discussion, planning, and action.

This project builds research capacity in Kazakhstan by bringing researchers to the UK for training and promotes the transmission of Uyghur cultural heritage through support for a local music school. The project works from the premise that intangible cultural heritage is a vital aspect of community identity and can be harnessed as a tool for sustainable development, supporting community cohesion and mutual responsibility, and enabling collective action.

Meshrep in China were inscribed in 2010 on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of urgent safeguarding, providing a case study on the problems of top-down models of intangible cultural heritage as national symbolic capital. This project seeks to develop an alternative, grassroots approach to intangible heritage, working closely with Uyghur communities in Kazakhstan to support and enable local goals, building capacity for entrepreneurship, reducing poverty, and improving community well-being.

Principal Investigator: Dr Rachel Harris, School of Oriental and African Studies 

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