Market Places: International Meeting Points in Border Zones of Georgia

Researcher: Ketevan Khutsishvili

Topic

This subproject explores the trade and flow of goods in the border regions of Georgia. The research sites are the Batumi District (border zone between Georgia and Turkey, which is a part of the Adjara region of southwest Georgia) and the Zugdidi District (Abkhazian border zone in the western Georgian region of Samegrelo). In the first case, a closed state border was opened in 1993. In the second case, the border has emerged after ethno-political conflict in 1998. Both facts — the closing and opening of borders — influenced and changed the formal relationships and stimulated the development of new forms of informal ones, especially in terms of economic interaction.

The acting agents in this context are the local population, the state (institutions, officials), non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and criminal groupings. All of them are involved in a complex net of relations, in which informality plays an important part.

Questions/hypothesis

The research questions are the following: How does the existence of physical borders impact the construction of informal trade activities? In what ways can the informal activities in border regions be considered as manifestations of “globalization from below”? How do the trans-border contacts transgress conflicts or situations of latent conflicts from below?

These questions start from the hypotheses that even if signs of tensions are continuously present in the borderlands, the local population often does not conceive a border as an impermeable institution to impede economic activities, and when the formal interaction seems becomes more problematic, people find informal ways to deal with the situation. Another key premise is that the transgression of borders happens through pragmatic interactions as a part of globalization from below.

Methods/data

The research will focus on the transformation processes of trade and trade organization, like border markets, spontaneous or organized. Market places will be studied as the material implications of the processes going on in the society. The research will be conducted by use of ethnographic methods: participant observation, interviewing, in-depth interviews, and mapping will be the main tools. The theoretical framework will mainly be the substantivist approach.

The chosen two cases will give an opportunity to compare the impact of closed/opened boundaries on the ways that formal and informal activities are carried out.

Previous small-scale research was carried out on the changing images of bazaars in urban spaces in Georgia (conducted in 2010) and on informal economic channels that transgress the borders of Georgia (conducted in 2013).

Collaboration with other group members and contribution tot he joint project

Khutsishvili has already started the collaboration with the other group members (for example, with Fehlings and Schoeberlein) and will deepen this cooperation. She will contribute to the project as a whole by bringing a focus on borders in the context of trade and the flow of goods, as well as providing institutional support for various subprojects and expertise on the region.