Cultural Goods and Identity Formation in Georgia and Kazakhstan

Researcher: John Schoeberlein


This subproject will investigate the ways that flows of cultural goods and values play a role in shaping new social landscapes, especially among youth in post-Soviet market environments. Like other subprojects, this one examines how exchange networks are embedded in social, culture and political contexts that give the networks their particular dimensions and composition. In this case, meanwhile, the objects of exchange — cultural goods — are not incidental to the networks, but form their raison d’être. The goods in question are ones that are symbolically important in defining people’s identities and orientations, such as the clothing that one wears in order to express membership in a particular group, or halal food that is viewed as essential for adhering to group norms, or a folk musical instrument that enables participation, symbolically and practically, in certain cultural group. The development of new markets in the post-Soviet space has been accompanied by the emergence of new cultural orientations, and often the markets and values mutually give each other form (e.g., see the analysis of links between religious orientation and beverage consumption in Lankauskas 2002). Group identity, membership and participation are mediated by economic and cultural access to key goods that have become available mainly through informal markets and means of exchange, including travel, friendship, and the internet (information and marketing). Schoeberlein will examine two cases: Southwestern Georgia, where trade and cultural links with Turkey and the wider Muslim world are forming a new cultural-religious landscape, and urban Kazakhstan and the emergence there of groups that are shaped by trade and cultural links with Russia, with Kazakh communities abroad, and with global youth culture (often mediated through Russia). In both cases, this will build on previous work examining new cultural orientations, but within the framework of the project, developing a focus on the role of trade and flows of cultural goods and the values that they embody.


This subproject will explore the differences and similarities between how cultural goods and more “culturally neutral” goods pass through exchange networks, what the relationships are between the goods, the networks, the sellers and the consumers of such goods, and how the different kinds of goods and their characteristics (availability/scarcity, sources, mobility, cost, etc.) affect the ways that networks form and values change. Particular attention will be paid to the dynamic relationships between new market relations, networks and exchange systems interact with other socio-political circumstances, such as distribution of ethnic populations, location and passability of borders, and concerns about the dangers of certain kinds of movements affect the emergent meanings that form identities.


There are three general types of information that will be gathered for this subproject: (1) about goods, (2) about networks of exchange and the people who constitute them, (3) about meanings of objects/exchanges and the ways that they contributed to identities. These types of information will be gathered through participant observation and interviewing, and in particular, through “following” the networks of exchange in the various contexts that such exchanges take place, ranging from cultural gatherings and markets to friendship and kin connections and the internet. Much of the network-related information will be mappable — also in relation to the socio-political landscape — and this will contribute to and draw upon the GIS methods used in the project more widely. The field research will involve visits to places in Georgia, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Russia of importance to the exchange networks.

Collaboration with other group members and contribution to the joint project

This subproject will involve direct collaboration with the other subprojects working in Georgia, as some of the same markets will be relevant (including work with Khutsishvili, Fehlings, and Melkumyan). It has strong thematic resonance with all of the other subprojects, particularly in their dimension of study of value dynamics, as well as their dimension of GIS mapping, and thus will connect in terms of thematics, substance and methods, especially with the subprojects of Rudaz, Fehlings and Karrar.