Cornell University Press

Anastasia Shesterinina on the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict

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We asked author Anastasia Shesterinina three questions about her new book, Mobilizing in Uncertainty, and her research on the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

August 14, 1992, began as a regular day for people in Abkhazia. Some were going to work, others were at the beach. The advance of Georgian forces into Abkhazia that started the Georgian-Abkhaz war of 1992-1993 ruptured everyday life, creating a sense of shock and disbelief. “That day I was making jam. I stood in the garden and cooked on the fire,” one woman recalls, “My daughter ran in and said, ‘The war started!’ I asked, ‘War? With whom?’” This rupture motivates the question of the book: How do ordinary people navigate uncertainty to make mobilization decisions in civil war?

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Unexpected narratives emerged systematically in interviews and observations underlying this book. References to uncertainty at the war’s onset were one such ethnographic surprise. That prewar activism did not predict mobilization was another. During fieldwork, I struggled to make sense of these surprises as they did not fit existing theories of mobilization. Now I know immersive fieldwork made these surprises possible and helped get at the process of mobilization from the perspective of the very actors involved. Paying attention to these surprises offered an opportunity for theoretical innovation, namely, the collective threat framing framework that helps account for mobilization in uncertainty.

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study?

This book challenges a fundamental assumption underlying conflict research, that individuals know the risk involved in mobilization and calculate their decisions based on this knowledge. Mobilizing in Uncertainty shows that people come to perceive risk in different ways affected by earlier experiences of conflict and by social networks at the time of mobilization and act differently based on whom they understand to be threatened and mobilize to protect. Underlying this argument is the recognition that people experience intense uncertainty when war breaks out in their communities. Future research should take seriously the centrality of uncertainty to mobilization in civil war.

Featured photo: Abkhazia. Credit: Artem Bryzgalov.

Cover image of Mobilizing in Uncertainty.
Read more about this book.

Anastasia Shesterinina is a Lecturer in Politics and International Politics at the University of Sheffield. She has published in American Political Science ReviewJournal of Peace Research, and International Peacekeeping. Follow her on Twitter @AShesterinina.

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