- Caucasus Paradigms: Anthropologies, Histories and the Making of a World Area
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Caucasus, like Central Asia, has drawn rapidly increasing interest from a wide range of policy-makers, social scientists, and humanities scholars. But whereas Central Asia seems to be more visible in international discussions and literature, the Caucasus region remains shrouded in mystery due to its perceived obscurity and "unknowability." For centuries, the region has held a reputation of a wild space of violence, resistance and closure. In other words, the Caucasus, with its relatively clear-cut geographical contours (with the exception of its southern borders), is paradoxically "unknown" to Western symbolic geography, humanities, and anthropology. The editors of the volume reviewed here therefore seek to answer an ambitious question: What does it mean to make sense of a world area and to be a part of it through both politics and scholarship? A region whose ethnic and cultural complexity has heretofore confounded the attempts to place it on the world stage seems to be nearer to being tamed by anthropologists. [End Page 843]
The book's thirteen chapters are based on discussions that took place at a 2005 workshop at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale), which had brought together a dozen specialists in the ethnography and cultural history of the Caucasus region. Neither oil, nor dramatic political events, revolutions, or border disputes are the objects of analysis collected in this volume; rather, the book proffers a more open understanding of a region where old and new cultural values, national identities, and markets have been radically reconfigured in the course of colonial, socialist, and post-socialist transitions. The main question posed is: how should anthropologists and cultural historians understand and interpret a tiny area abounding in diverse histories, cultures, and geopolitical significances in the context of the post-Cold-War order, world geography, and politics of knowledge.
Lying in the margins of both Europe and Asia, at the intersection of competing states and empires, the Caucasus is definitely a typical in-between area, a liminal space that, as the editors emphasize in their introduction, was always a transit zone "to be conquered by imperial powers" (p.6). This volume once again sets up the Caucasus as a contested transit zone, this time between Eastern European, or Slavic, and Middle East Studies. As Bruce Grant and Lale Yalcin-Heckmann point out, all see this extremely diversified region as a natural home, some because of long-term Russian influence and governance and the region's totalitarian and socialist past, others due to a significant Muslim population and historical background. At the same time, for all these disciplines, the Caucasus remains on the periphery of politics and culture, on the margins of knowledge, a location made exotic by its cultural distinctiveness from the center. As Sergei Arutyunov reflects in his afterword, Russian-trained scholars refer to the Caucasus as an area characterized by the presence of "a certain cultural intimacy," a complicated linguistic space, machismo-style violence, and vendettas, as well as a historical free man's dress known as the cherkesska. A distinctive trait of this volume is that the editors do not seem to be in opposition to Russia or to the views of Russian-trained scholars. Rather, it is a fittingly inclusive approach toward academic exchange and cooperation in detailing a new critical view of the history of paradigms.
The anthology is divided into three chapters, delineating three broad approaches to understanding a new area. The editors and authors of this volume aim to analyse the existing and emerging unifying codes as an interaction of local and global forces and to put forth a perspective of [End Page 844] "crossing borders," disciplinary, geographical, and cultural, beyond the bounded container ideology. Thus, the collection is grouped not into simplistic sections, such as a geographical division into the North and South Caucasus, or by political unities of nation states and ethnic...