David Sichinava is a human geographer serving as Adjunct Research Professor for Carleton University’s Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, and Research Associate at the New York-based Langer Research Associates. He is the former Research Director of the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC), a non-profit NGO focused on social science research and public policy analysis in the South Caucasus. Dr. Sichinava recently joined UC Press’s journal Communist and Post-Communist Studies as Associate Editor, where he is responsible for manuscript submissions related to the Caucasus.
UC Press: Welcome to Communist and Post-Communist Studies!
DS: Thank you for the warm welcome! Receiving the invitation to join the journal’s editorial team from Paul Goode was a pleasant surprise as CPCS has long been a valuable source of scholarship for me. Serving as an associate editor means that I now have an opportunity to directly connect with the journal’s academics and leading scholarly debates. I am excited to contribute to the great work already underway and to have a say in conversations about the Caucasus. Despite both its global and regional importance, the Caucasus is covered only sporadically in many English-language academic journals where the focus tends to be on select themes like conflict and energy policy. At the same time, I feel there is growing interest in this region’s significance—both on the research and readership fronts—and with it a chance for a wider range of theoretical and empirical conversations. So, I think it is an exciting time for this journal.
UC Press: Your academic work involves both quantitative and qualitative research, alongside public policy analysis, looking at issues relating to elections, social movements, housing and urban policy, as well as geographies of conflict and displacement. That’s a lot of ground to cover! What lens does your work bring to CPCS and to your analyses of work published on the post-Soviet states of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan?
DS: My background is in human geography and my toolbox as a scholar consists of both quantitative and qualitative methods since I firmly believe in methodological pluralism. Over the past decade, the focus of my research has evolved and, indeed, covered a fair amount of ground. Still, empirically, my work is focused on the geographies of Eurasia, foregrounding the South Caucasus and Georgia specifically. At the core of my research is a fundamental interest in seeing our physical and socio-political worlds more holistically, striving to better comprehend the spatial implications of power and politics and their inextricable links.
On a personal level, as a scholar educated in Georgia outside of the Western canon of academia and with English as my third language, the lens I bring to CPCS also has to do with this lived experience and subjectivity. A number of structural factors, like language barriers and a lack of knowledge of English-language academic publishing bar many regional scholars from presenting their work to a broader audience. I was happy to hear that CPCS acknowledges this challenge. Giving voice to scholars from the Caucasus region to write about their local impressions is a good step toward the democratization of knowledge dissemination in the social sciences. My task at CPCS will in part be exactly this – to keep an eye on high-quality and interesting research about the region produced by local scholars.
UC Press: A fair amount of your research involves opinion polling. What can opinion polls tell us, and where might they fall short?
DS: Opinion polling, alongside the way polling results are presented, is a source of heated debate in many of the societies that CPCS often covers. Here, polling research tends to be met with a good deal of skepticism and, at times, unfounded criticism by academics, politicians, and civil society actors. However, I still believe that when designed and administered properly, opinion polls can allow us to observe how societies evolve, how new attitudes and values are formed, and how the old ones fade away, even in “partly free” or “unfree” political systems. Indeed, this latter point is an important area of contemporary methodological study. I personally find cross-sectional comparative opinion polling most fascinating because it allows us to look at societal dynamics across a range of both timeframes and geographies. Luckily, many existing global studies do cover the Caucasus, including the World Values Survey and Life in Transition study, alongside regionally-specific initiatives like the Caucasus Barometer, for which I was involved for the past decade while at CRRC. These studies examine multiple facets of everyday life, and any empiricist, being in academia or applied research, should find them valuable. At the same time, like all social science research methods, opinion polls are only one mode of inquiry and do not fully capture the complexity of how societies operate. I therefore advocate for using polls alongside other sources of data, triangulating results with a range of different methods. In-depth contextual knowledge is key.
UC Press: In your role as Associate Editor of CPCS, what kind of articles are you hoping to publish? Will you focus on qualitative research or are other methodologies fair game? Any recommendations you have for prospective authors?
DS: My personal conviction is that methodological pluralism is an asset when aiming to fully grasp the dynamics in which communist and post-communist societies operate. I agree with my colleague Associate Editor at CPCS and Professor Tamara Pavasović Trošt, who has said that CPCS should welcome all strong scholarly contributions, irrespective of their epistemological traditions.
Another point that I would like to highlight comes from my experience serving as a blind peer reviewer of articles focused on the Caucasus. I have noticed that many papers rarely cite or acknowledge local scholars despite the growing presence of outstanding scholarship from the region. I encourage all academics focused on the Caucasus to take the time to follow local research. If a stronger dialogue over broad geographies, between disciplines and across scholars should exist, an essential component of this will be all of us taking the time to discover local scholarly material.
UC Press: Any recently-published or forthcoming papers you’d like to highlight? What’s coming down the pipeline?
DS: CPCS publishes a wide range of great scholarly content which makes your request no easy task. That said, off the top of my head, I found three recent papers very engaging. Marta Jaroszewicz and Jan Grzymski’s work on the securitization of voting rights for displaced Ukrainians importantly draws attention to how the internally displaced community faced othering from the mainstream society, having their right as citizens to vote compromised. Fabian Burkhardt and Jan Matti Dollbaum’s research on the polarization of Belarusians amidst constitutional plebiscite shows that even in such non-democratic contexts, voters can still respond to genuine policy issues. And Andrei Semenov and Elizaveta Popkova’s study looking at how and when subnational authorities decide to crack down on oppositional political movements has crucial take-aways for both academics and civil society advocates, with broad-spanning implications for our understandings of democratization and state transparency. I believe these three contributions not only cover important and timely topics but also stand as strong examples of well-thought-out research design and empirical analyses, connecting back to existing theoretical foundations. Still, CPCS has recently published a lot of great work like this. I recommend readers keep an active eye on the website’s list of new releases and follow the journal on social media.
UC Press: Thanks again for your work with the journal, and best wishes!
DS: Thank you! It is a crucial time for advancing scholarship on communist and post-communist societies, including those in the Caucasus—as well as for supporting the work of scholars from these regions. I look forward to working with my outstanding colleagues at CPCS and University of California Press!
Communist and Post-Communist Studies is an international, peer-reviewed scholarly journal featuring comparative research on current and historical developments in the communist and post-communist world. Post-communist states and societies encompass Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, for which the term “post-communist” remains analytically useful as a temporal or geographical frame. The journal broadly covers domestic politics and societies, foreign policy and international relations, ideology and identities, political economy, political and human geography, and law.