In a review posted on January 31, 2007, to the website of The Georgian Times (originally published in the Caucasus Research Resource Centers blog), Aaron Erlich notes, “Many social researchers working on the Caucasus bemoan the lack of good scholarly works on the region. However, one recent book, which is both excellent and readable, seems to have fallen under people’s radars: Mathijs Pelkmans’ Defending the Border: Identity, Religion, and Modernity in the Republic of Georgia, which came out in 2006 with Cornell University Press.” The book, part of Cornell’s Culture and Society after Socialism series, was recently announced as co-winner of the 2007 William A. Douglass book prize given by the Society for the Anthropology of Europe.
In it, Pelkmans illuminates the ways in which residents of the Caucasus have rethought who they are since the collapse of the Soviet Union through an exploration of three towns in the southwest corner of the Republic of Georgia. “Pelkmans’ book,” Erlich writes, “is deeply embedded within the literature on the studies of borderlands. Using the case of Sarpi (and Ajara more generally), Pelkmans argues convincingly that the Georgian (Soviet) border was not like other borders treated in the academic literature, which were porous and where strong cross-border networks have and continue to play an important role. Conversely, the Georgian border still plays a strong role, despite the ease with which it is now crossed.”