Drawing on recent ethnographic research, this article explores key aspects of contemporary discourses on the bazaar trade–development nexus in Kazakhstan. Wholesale traders at the Bolashak Bazaar in Almaty, part of the Barakholka bazaar agglomeration and one of the country’s largest markets, have forged particular practices and visions of entrepreneurial development over the last two decades. These have been impacted by state-imposed modernisation agendas and their underlying goals. Using an actor-centred approach, I show how trade entrepreneurs’ identities and social representation are challenged by statist developmentalism. However, I argue that traders also embrace a grassroots understanding of what socio-economic development should be like and thereby question the outcomes of seemingly utopian, state-led modernisation efforts on the ground. Through this focus it becomes apparent that the knowledge, aspirations and representations of actors in terms of social change constantly intersect, overlap and condition each other.