This study revolves around the village community of Ushguli, located in the Upper Svaneti region in the north of Georgia. Since its attainment of UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996 (ICOMOS 1994, UNESCO 1996) and the establishment of secure state structures and systems around 2010, Ushguli has been seeing an incremental rise in tourism; thus far, it has found itself relatively unprepared for meeting the interests and needs of visitors and for coping with the diversity characterising modern lifestyles (cf. Applis 2018).
The encounter and in many instances clash of interests between villagers and tourists, occurring in a context in which the economic objectives of the former group are encouraging continuously growing visitor numbers, is correspondingly difficult to channel and manage.
Ushguli, then, represents a space with ideal experimental conditions for the exploration of tourism as a strategy for overcoming economic and social crisis and of its effects on extant spatial, economic, environmental and social structures against a backdrop of change to material and immaterial objects driven by all stakeholders involved.
The data generated (images, texts of interviews, historical documents, etc.) is subject to continuous situational analysis (see Clark 2005, 2007) revolving around the following research questions:
- Which income safety nets are available (tourism, agriculture, holders of salaried positions within the family and across generations; state benefits such as pensions)?
- What is the role of migration and diversification of places of residence within and beyond families in the process of securing an income?
- What is the significance of traditional legal authorities in the resolution of conflicts over, for instance, grazing pastures, access to means of transport, and the use of fallow or unused land?
- What are the economic, social and spatial impacts of tourism and its influence?
- Which narratives of continuity and stability are we able to reconstruct (past, present, future)?
- What points of rupture appear? What are the causes to which these situations are attributed (modernity, tradition, higher powers, tourism)?
- Do people’s experiences of continuity and points of rupture differ in accordance with the group to which the individual belongs (permanent residents, permanent returners, members of different generations, etc.)?
- What coping strategies and practices of adaptation are apparent?
At the level of physical space and its objects, the procedure continiously involves the creation of a photographic, artistic and cartographic record of the current state of the village space as a reflection and image of the multiple transformations to which the community is subject with the aim of documenting the distinct phases of building work, distinguishing the pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet periods (cf. in this context the concept of an archaeology of the Soviet empire, Schlögel 2017, 21: ‘The world is examined, and becomes legible, through the history of things, through the analysis of signs and forms of communication, places and routines […].’)
The photographic record will take account of the villagers’ input and is intended to create an access to their community-related, family and individual biographical narratives (see Stake 2004 and Schwandt 2001 on the importance of responsive evaluation). Several preliminary surveys have identified a selection of suitable informants, which expanded during fieldwork to a typical distribution across groups and of individuals holding positions of significance in village life (elders, doctor, teacher, young people who do return only in summer to Ushguli).
Text: © Stefan Applis (2019)
Photography: © Stefan Applis (2018, 2017)
Applis, S. (2018): Tourism sustains, and threatens, Georgia’s highland heritage. Tales of an authentic society living at the edge of time fail to account for higher living standards in the Soviet heyday. eurasianet.org. https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-tourism-sustains-and-threatens-georgias-highland-heritage (Date: 30 March 2019)
Clark, A. (2005): Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Thousand Oaks.
Clark, A. (2007): Grounded theory: Conflicts, debates and situational analysis. In: Outhwaite, W. and Turner, S. (ed.), Handbook of social science methodology. Thousand Oaks, 423- 442.
ICOMOS (eds.) (1994). World Heritage List: Upper Svaneti. No 709: Advisory body evaluation. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/709/documents/ (Date: 30 March 2019)
Schlögel, K. (2017): Das sowjetische Jahrhundert. Archäologie einer untergegangenen Welt. München.
Schwandt, T. A. (2001): Understanding Dialogue as Practice. Evaluation, 7 (2), 228-237. https://doi.org/10.1177/13563890122209658
Stake, R. E. (2004): Standard-Based & Responsive Evaluation. Thousand Oakes.
UNESCO (ed.) (1996): Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural. Heritage. World Heritage Committee. Twentieth Session Merida, Mexico, 2.-7. December 1996. https://whc.unesco.org/archive/1996/whc-96-conf201-21e.pdf (Date: 30 March 2019)