Autonomous Political Economies: winemakers, national heritage, and the ethnographic mapping of geopolitics in the Republic of Georgia
Keywords:Autonomous Political Economies, winemakers, tourism, geopolitics
More than merely grapes go into the production of Georgian wine. For the Republic of Georgia, wine bottles up layers of identity and filters out oppressive, imperial histories of invasion, war, and occupation. My anthropological and ethnographic project is interested in how the Georgian wine supply chain — from tending vines, through production, onto the bottles' labels, and into the hands (and mouths) of tourists—simultaneously produces Georgian identities autonomous from a historical Russianness. As Georgians negotiate the reconceptualization of their identity amidst ongoing occupation and within a post-Soviet, postimperial context, they reconstruct a market of wine commodities. Wine and identity have historical embodiment in the land, which transfers to grapes, bottled and sold on domestic and international markets. Wines are labeled with, and as, symbols of heritage, telling stories of Georgia’s tumultuous history. As conflicts, both historic and futuristic, political and environmental, continue to press upon Georgian borders, its people unceasingly negotiate their identities through grapes, vines, wines, and bottles. My fieldwork in Tbilisi and Georgia’s winemaking regions encompasses various anthropological methodologies, data analysis from Geographic Information Systems, and considerations of Heritage Studies to explore the layering of wine landscapes as commodity networks that tell a story of Georgian heritage. I utilize cartography to trace diverging wine supply chains, that encompass traditional and industrial forms of viticulture and aim to visualize how these economic networks embody different political economic identities. Following the Georgian “Wine Trail,” I document how heritage is portrayed throughout Georgia, how winemakers articulate identities, and how these might be at work with larger geopolitical tensions. While framed in the post-Soviet historical context, my project shifts the lens to a contemporary Georgian market to understand how geopolitical and geoeconomics considerations impact the Georgian wine economy. My work is interdisciplinary, exploring the intersection of environmental and political histories, with the contemporary frames of political economy and ecology, through archeological methodologies of heritage studies. My research project unpacks how Georgians associate their national heritage through a supposedly mundane object—wine—to show how Georgian nationality and Georgian wine are indeed the best pairing.
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