Concepts and Categories: Finding What Matters in the North Caucasus
Fri, November 14, 2008 • 12:00 PM • African-American Culture Room, Texas Union Room 4.110
Powerful assumptions are made‹both in the popular imagination and in academic studies‹about the nature of social life in the Northern Caucasus: that it is a violent place; that ethnicity is the single most powerful definer of social identity; that demographic and economic trends point to social chaos; and that religion (and, specifically, the changing relevance of Islam) is a source of broad and perhaps dangerous instability there. But do these categories, roughly hewn, really circumscribe what matters in life in the Northern Caucasus? In this lecture, anthropologist Margaret Paxson (author of Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village) discusses her recent research in a small village in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, in order to highlight alternate categories of analysis that emerge when one looks at a region up-close. What is (or is not) the salience of ethnic categories? What are the powerful units of social belonging, social trust, and social and economic exchange? How much do gender and age matter for social stratification? What is a "family"? The village that is described in this lecture confounds easy categorization; Paxson argues that the puzzle of the place serves to underline the point that the best research is always deeply responsive to the realities of the field.