Modernization in Georgia

Theories, Discourses and Realities

by Giga Zedania (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 308 Pages


The book is a collection of articles treating the question of modernization in Georgia. It is an interdisciplinary volume, comprising the studies from disciplines of history, political science, sociology and international relations. The texts deal with the topic from various angles, creating a rich and multifaceted picture: theories of modernization, history of modernization and Europeanization efforts in Georgia from the 19th century to the present day, Soviet past and its influence on the present socio-political processes, interrelation between foreign policy and modernization project, social capital and civil society, state and nation in the Caucasus. The book takes into account both theoretical and historical dimensions of the topic, presents various interpretations of the concept of modernization and discusses how distinct processes and projects of modernizing society existed in different historical epochs in Georgia.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1. Introduction: Modernization in Georgia: Theories, Discourses, Realities (Giga Zedania)
  • 2. Revisiting the Concept: Georgia’s Multiple Modernizations (Ghia Nodia)
  • 3. Historical Aspects of Modernity in Georgia (Nino Doborjginidze)
  • 4. The Entangled Modernities of Soviet Georgia (Timothy Blauvelt)
  • 5. The Place of “Europe” in the Post-Soviet Georgian Modernization Discourse (Adrian Brisku)
  • 6. Soviet Path Dependency as an Impediment to Democratization in Georgia (David Darchiashvili)
  • 7. Geopolitics and Modernization: Understanding Georgia’s Pro-Western Assertiveness since the Rose Revolution (Giorgi Gvalia / Bidzina Lebanidze)
  • 8. Social Capital in Georgia – Four Challenges for Modernizers (Hans Gutbrod)
  • 9. On the Specifics of the Development of Civil Society in Georgia (Oliver Reisner)
  • 10. Georgia: Between a State and a Homeland (Emzar Jgerenaia / Giorgi Sabanadze)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

← 6 | 7 →

Giga Zedania

1.  Introduction: Modernization in Georgia: Theories, Discourses, Realities

This chapter deals with the ways in which Georgian literature and scholarship thematized the phenomena of modernization and modernity. After sketching the modernization theory as developed in the social sciences of 1950s and 1960s, it attempts to identify modernization with functional differentiation and abandon the old central opposition between tradition and modernity. The chapter attempts to demonstrate, based on the cases of politics and religion in Georgia, that we can no longer assume that modernization encounters any outside resistance, as it is the modernization process that produces a backlash against itself.

Keywords: differentiation, Georgia, modernization, political system, religion

The Word and its Substitutes

The words “modernization” and “modernity” are latecomers in the Georgian language. One can name a few reasons for this delay. First, Georgia was not part of the European debates when the word “modern” first turned up in European languages. Intellectual life in Georgia was not affected by it in the Middle Ages when it was used in Western Europe in the context of philosophical and theological discussions, or in the seventeenth century when the “quarrel of the ancients and the moderns” was revolving around the questions of art and literature (Gumbrecht, 1978). After Georgia was annexed by the Russian empire in 1801, the Georgian language adopted through Russian and German languages the way of translating “modernity” as “new time” (“Akhali Dro”, Новое Время, Neuzeit),1 although the phenomenon itself was thematized and discussed. Finally, when, in the twentieth century, the humanities and social sciences began to consider the questions of modernity and modernization as their central concerns, ← 7 | 8 → the discussion in Georgia halted because of the ideological pressure coming from the Soviet power, which made the free development of the social sciences and humanities an impossibility.

But when the Georgian academic community was freed from external constraints and was to discuss the issues and use the terms in the beginning of the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, modernity and modernization were not necessarily the topics with which the reflection started. Two paradoxical developments took place instead:

The change occurred in the mid-2000s. It was after the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003 when the dominant discourse of postmodernity and the dominant transition paradigm were relegated to the margins. The discourse of modernity and the modernization paradigm came to the foreground. This change was intimately linked with the political and social context – the revolution, which happened under the slogan of democracy, quickly became the revolution for modernization of the country. Fighting against corruption, building public institutions, transforming societal values – these were the new slogans, often to the detriment of democracy. Modernization became the new keyword.

Literature and Modernity

But this was certainly not the first time that Georgia had undergone a modernization process. The country had encountered it at least two previous times – first, in the nineteenth century, within the borders of the Russian empire, when the old feudal structures were being replaced by the new capitalist enterprises and new societal values were being introduced (although one could argue that there were some attempts to bring modernity to Georgia in the eighteenth century as well – see Chapter 3 in this volume). The second, even more important, time was during the Soviet period, when Georgia first became part of an extremely ambitious and often violent project of forced modernization, with industrialization, ← 9 | 10 → bureaucratization and mass literacy as its constituent factors. It was this latter modernization project, with its problematic dimension of violence and antipluralism, that made it impossible for Georgia to “transit” to democratic governance and market economy, demanding a renewed attempt at modernization instead.

Where were these previous modernization attempts reflected? Where should we look when searching for the reflection on modernization in Georgia? Interestingly enough, it is literature, not science and scholarship, which provides instances of this type of reflection. The one reason for this is the “literature-centric” character of Georgian culture, for which the literary word has been of central importance. This character was reinforced by the strong ideological pressure on the humanities and social sciences during the Soviet period, which relegated discussion of important societal issues almost completely to the field of literature. Thus I will try here to sketch briefly how the problematic of modernization is reflected in Georgian literature, by choosing two significant literary works from the twentieth century. The first dates back to the 1920s, when the Soviet project of modernization was at its heyday. The second was written half a century later, when the failure of that project was already apparent.

The White Collar by Mikheil Javakhishvili, published in 1926, is a criticism of modern life against the background of the pristine, primitive life of the mountainous regions far from the civilized world, which in retrospect, looks less and less attractive to the narrator. The narrator contrasts the weakness and inauthenticity of the civilized modern life with the genuine traditional life of the mountaineers, but after finding his love in a strong and fertile woman there, comes back to the city. There is no explicit criticism of Soviet life as such, although this book did bring trouble for the writer who was accused of denigrating the women’s movement. But it would not be correct to read this novel as a criticism of Soviet modernization as such. It is a criticism of modern life in general, including its Soviet version. But rejection of this modern life is not a way out. It is a combination of tradition and modernity; it is hybridization of the tradition with modernity that looks most attractive for Javakhishvili.

The Man who was very fond of Literature, by Guram Dochanashvili, published a half-century later, is a more reflexive story about the way to deal with the demands of modern life. It is even more interesting that it explicitly deals with the social sciences as a form of knowledge about human life. The story is about a worker in a state statistical department ← 10 | 11 → who is given the task of studying the leisure of citizens of the late Soviet period. He stumbles upon a man whose only and all-consuming passion is literature. It comes to the confrontation of the two kinds of knowledge: one scholarly and scientific and the second, aesthetic and literary. Interestingly enough, there is no mention in the story of the official Marxist-Leninist ideology; the representative of the state department names as his authorities Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Vilfredo Pareto, Pitirim Sorokin, and Talcott Parsons (Dochanashvili, 2001: 60–61). His interest is to divide life, to compartmentalize it into work and leisure, for example. But it is the “man who loved literature very much” who resists this kind of division. He opposes to it the totalizing aesthetic attitude, which transforms every object, every person, and every situation into a potential literary one. What is remarkable about this confrontation is the fact that both scientific and literary attitudes are thoroughly modern. The man who loved literature very much is a photographer by profession, making him someone not very far from the demands of modern life and technology. His literary attitude relies upon the an aesthetization of literature and all his literary references from Cervantes to Chinua Achebe are part of the modern literary tradition. But this confrontation shows us the innermost conflict within the realm of modernity – the conflict between division and totality, between differentiation and dedifferentiation.

Theories of Modernization

If we wish to define modernity it is very difficult to avoid the central semantic field related to the concept of differentiation. This concept can be formulated in strictly sociological terms, as the functional differentiation of autonomous societal systems such as politics, economy, religion, law, science, or art (Luhmann, 1997). But this principle can be formulated in other ways as well. For example, we can speak, with Pierre Manent, of the regime of separations – and name the six most important of these separations: the separation between professions (division of labour), the separation of powers (legislative, executive, judicial), the separation of church and state, the separation between civil society and the state, the separation between the represented and the representatives, and the separation ← 11 | 12 → between facts and values (Manent, 2003). Thus modern life is always a life divided, fragmented, differentiated, no longer unified.

But to have come to this economical – albeit provisional – definition of modernity and modernization as a process leading to this regime of separations or functionally differentiated society, a significant theoretical and empirical work had to be done. Jumping over the heads of the classics of sociological theory, I would like to say sketch the modernization theory proper, as developed in the 1950s and 1960s.

The problem with modernization theory is that it is not just a theory, it is also a discourse (cf. Schelke and Kohli, 2000: 49–72). Its first context is not necessarily the one of academia. Its origin goes back to the period after the Second World War, when the confrontation between the Soviet and the Western worlds was reflected on the ideological level as well. The Soviet world had Marxist-Leninist philosophy as the ideological foundation for both home and abroad; this was the modernist and modernizing ideology of incessant progress, relying on the assumptions of the technological progress ushering in social change. Modernization theory and, even more, the modernization discourse in the United States and Western Europe was developed as an ideological counterpart to the Marxism-Leninism.

Modernization theory had, in a way, a double origin, although the second was not completely independent of the first. The first source and, in a certain sense, instance of modernization theory is to be found in the sociological conception of Talcott Parsons. Parsons is believed to have discovered “evolutionary universals” that “any organizational development sufficiently important to further evolution that … is likely to be ‘hit upon’ by various systems operating under different conditions.” (Parsons, 1964: 339). The list of the evolutionary universals characterizing modern society, according to Parsons, comprised “a differentiated, predominantly universalistic legal system, money and markets, ‘bureaucratic’ organization, and the pattern of democratic association with special reference to its development at the level of government in large-scale societies” (Parsons, 1964: 340). According to Parsons, these four universals have the same significance for modern societies as religion, language, kinship and technology had for the earliest human societies of which we have knowledge. But Parsons never assumed that there was a linear historical movement from tradition to modernity, which would put all these “evolutionary universals” strictly in one of the historical forms. Parsons’ aim was to capture the complexity of human society, but precisely because of this complexity it was ← 12 | 13 → difficult to appropriate the entirety of his theory (cf. Joas and Knöbl, 2009: 315).

The more accessible and more popular version of the modernization theory was developed in the 1950s and 1960s by scholars such as Daniel Lerner, Walt Rostow, Marion J. Levy, and Alex Inkeles, many of whom were heavily influenced by Parsons To take one prominent example of this type of theory, we could look at Daniel Lerner’s theory as expounded in his book The Passing of Traditional Society. Modernizing the Middle East because it is chronologically one of the earliest (1958) and also one of the most influential versions of it.

As the title tells us, Lerner takes a very specific region that he considers to be traditional and follows how the appearance of mass-media in this region breaks down old societal structures, replacing them with new attitudes and values, which themselves bring about economic dynamism. For Lerner, this new pattern of values is centred upon the importance of what he calls “empathy” – the ability to abstract oneself from the horizon of the particularist and familial networks (Lerner, 1958: 54). This empathy, according to Lerner, can be formed through the use of modern mass media (newspapers, radio, television). This provides a simple model of transition from traditional society to modern society.

The version of modernization theory offered by Lerner is certainly far from being as complex as Parsons’ or Luhmann’s. But it was this simplified version that gained popularity both in academia and outside of it, in the realms of policy making and political discourse. But this popularity did not last for very long – according to one version (Alexander, 1987), the student revolt of 1968 marked the end of the modernization paradigm due to the latter’s “ethnocentric” character, which was no longer acceptable to the leftist Zeitgeist (Joas and Knöbl, 2009); according to another interpretation, it was the internal inconsistencies of the modernization theory that led to its demise. But whichever of these two interpretations one chooses, it should not be forgotten that modernization theory experienced a veritable revival in the 1990s both on the level of theory and on the level of discourse; we should not forget, for example, that Fukuyama’s verdict of the end of history (Fukuyama, 1992) was just one version of the modernization theory. Thus the liberal triumphalism of the aftermath of 1989, which assumed that, in view of the demise of the Soviet Union, there would never be alternative to market economy and liberal democracy, was just the last offshoot of the theory and discourse created in the 1950s. ← 13 | 14 →

Modernity and Tradition

Among many problems with the theory of modernization there has always been the central one – the problem of tradition. Modernization theory depends on the opposition between tradition and modernity (Wehling, 1992: 117). Modernization is conceived as a process leading from the “traditional” to the “modern” society. This model is nothing else than a post-Second World War version of the nineteenth-century classical sociological topos of the distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, be it in its Toennisian or Durkheimian form.

This distinction met with a vehement critique because of its “ethnocentric” character. It would presuppose – so its critics – that the end goal of the societal evolution is the Western type of society, whereas all other kinds of societies – notwithstanding their huge cultural and other differences – are nothing else but “backward”, atavistic forms to be surmounted in the direction of rationalization and modernization.

This type of critique is still popular, although the major problem with it is the fact that it has never been able to provide an alternative goal of development without repeating the structures of the capitalist, liberal-democratic Western model. But this criticism is external to the theory itself, arguing based on political assumptions more than on theoretical and empirical deficiencies of the theory. But if the name of traditional society in the 1950s could be considered as an adequate description of some Third World countries, it is no longer the case in the globalized world of the twenty-first century. Post-Soviet societies offer a particularly good example of this problem of this difficulty when some of them – or some parts of them – are termed as traditional.

The major problem for classical modernization theory in the context of post-Soviet Georgia is that one can no longer speak of the opposition of tradition and modernity in any meaningful sense. Georgia has undergone at least two major encounters with modernity – firstly, during the nineteenth century, within the framework of the Russian Empire by which it was annexed in 1801; and secondly, during the twentieth century as a Soviet republic when it underwent a radical modernization project. Whatever was left as “tradition” after these two waves of modernization in Georgia was very far from any authentically lived life forms that a traditional society could offer. One could talk, with Hobsbawm and Ranger, of ← 14 | 15 → “invented traditions” (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983), but we should take into account that this process of invention is itself a product of modernization. This impossibility of opposing tradition and modernity in a classical fashion though should not be interpreted as the new version of the “end of history” thesis, according to which the historical dynamics has exhausted itself, leaving nothing behind for further conflicts and tensions. On the contrary, it should drive us towards discovering a new model for thinking about modernization.

If we go back to the modernization as differentiation thesis, we could diagnose different modes of dedifferentiation as major impediments on the road of “becoming modern”. Blurring the lines between different systems, challenging the “regime of separations” by erasing the separating borders would be the decisive dynamic, even “entropic” factor in the process. The interplay between differentiation and dedifferentiation would cover the whole field of societal evolution and development, without any reference to the traditions existing independently of this interplay. Appearance of “traditional” phenomena would be nothing more than the products of “retraditionalization”, which is one more aspect of the modernization phenomenon. To grasp this double process, one could supplement the theory of functional differentiation with the theory of modernity offered by actor-network theory.

Biographical notes

Giga Zedania (Volume editor)

Giga Zedania is professor and rector of Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia. He studied philosophy, sociology and cultural studies in Georgia, USA, Hungary and Germany. His has authored and edited numerous publications on the history of political thought, social theory and transformation of post-soviet societies.


Title: Modernization in Georgia