Virtual Transnational Movements in the Caucasus
Alexei Gorgadze and Daniel Alexandrov
Department of Sociology, National Research University Higher School of Economics - St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Russia
The region of Caucasus is a cauldron of ethnicities with the dozens of languages spoken as native languages in close geographical proximity and most complex regional politics between independent nations and ethnic regions. It is known as a hotbed of transnational Islamic movements calling for the unification of Caucasus. Many people from the Caucasus live in diaspora in Russia and many other countries. Social network sites provide people both at home and in diaspora with powerful tools to engage in identity work and social movements, forging networked virtual communities with different identity labels.
We study virtual groups from the Caucasus on social network site VKontakte (VK), most popular among young Internet users in the fSU - about 254 million accounts by May 2014. Certain open features of VK profiles allow for the analysis of geographic position of users, membership of the groups, the content of groups’ pages, and 'friendship' ties between groups.Besides the multitude of groups narrowly defined in terms of ethnicity or locality ("True Armenians" or "Real Azeri Men", or “We are from Baku”) there are many groups aspiring to offer regional panethnic identities (“Men from Caucasus are cool” or “United Caucasus”). Many of these groups, especially with some socio-political claims (like “United Caucasus”) can be seen as virtual social movements. Individual participation in these groups provides data for multivariate measurement of ethnic and national identities [Abdelal, Herrera, Johnston & McDermott 2009, Lee 2009] in the virtual world of social media. The phenomenon of pan-Caucasian groups is similar to panethnic group categories (like Latin Americans), which become important and even institutionalized in diasporic organizations [Okamoto, Mora 2014]. Some researchers have identified the role of such ‘supra-ethnic’ categories in the formation of national identity [Brubaker 1994].
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